Egypt’s agricultural value-added per person rose more than 20% in 1990-2007. Yet both malnutrition and obesity rose—an extremely unusual combination.
Some bloggers have been swift to see the not quite so invisible hand of capitalism slapping away. Certainly meat has been in increasing demand from the new Egyptian middle classes, with all the inefficiency of food use that implies. Egypt has also been switching increasingly from growing wheat to growing cash crops, and the traditional fellah tending his little patch of land has been displaced by increasing levels of agribusiness.
For start, it might be worth mentioning that Egyptian cuisine is largely regarded as a joke amongst the Arabs I know. They may have given the world Fuul (sometimes rather unfortunately transliterated as Foul), but their version is a bland tasteless paste compared to the heights reached in Sudan or elsewhere in the region. Their other great contribution to world cuisine is Kushari, which has the merit of being fairly tasty. It consists of rice, pasta, lentils & chickpeas in a chilli & garlic sauce. As a traveller you learn you can eat it at lunch and then take the rest of the day off. It's a massive carb bomb that fills you up, but isn't exactly full of goodness.
This ties in with the rest of The Economist article mentioned above. Increasingly when fighting malnutrition Aid Agencies are focusing on the quality of nutrition they are getting to people, rather than just shipping over loads of grains to fill people up. Local fruits are given to children to make sure they develop properly, with all the vital vitamins & minerals. Research shows that increasing the quality of food given to young, growing children is one of the most efficient ways of giving aid, with the kids more likely to stay in school and get a proper education. The long term benefits of these micro-nutrients are fantastic, and luckily getting vitamins to kids is cheap.
I don't know how they make it, but having been in Egypt during the sugar harvest I can certainly say how they eat it. Everyone feels it's their right to grab sugar canes off lorries and trains and munch away. They're also extremely keen to share this 'delicacy' with you. You crack the outside of the cane and suck raw sugar out, helped by the untreated water that the cane absorbed in the fields. It's like gritty golden syrup, and it's considered impolite to refuse an offer. After a day spent riding on a third class train the floor is over ankle deep in discarded cane carcases and your blood feels sticky as it squelches through your veins. Still, it's a quintessential Egyptian experience, even if foreigners aren't officially allowed to ride on them. Just jump on and ignore the toilet smells. When I asked for a student discount the conductor was so flummoxed I got to ride for free.
Egypt has a lot of problems at the moment. Unfortunately the food it consumes is one of them. By consuming so many calories and so little goodness, its people are getting fat whilst also being malnourished. It's hard to imagine the new government choosing to focus on getting its children micro-nutrients, but if Egypt is to flourish then there has to be a change in their eating patterns.