Eating Habits and Meal Patterns

While the islands are geographically close, the Pacific Island region is racially and culturally diverse. The cuisine varies slightly from island to island and is a blend of native foods with European, Japanese, and American influences. The cuisine is also influenced by the Asian Indians, Chinese, Korean, and Filipino agricultural workers who arrived in the eighteenth century. Food plays a central role in Pacific Islander culture; it represents prosperity, generosity, and community support. Hospitality is extended to visitors, who are usually asked to share a meal. Even if a visitor is not hungry, he or she will generally eat a small amount of food so that the host is not disappointed. Food is also often given as a gift, and a refusal of food is considered an insult to the host or giver.

morbidity: illness or accident nutritional deficiency: lack of adequate nutrients in the diet calorie: unit of food energy vitamin: necessary complex nutrient used to aid enzymes or other metabolic processes in the cell mineral: an inorganic (non-carbon-containing) element, ion or compound nutrient: dietary substance necessary for health anemia: low level of red blood cells in the blood calcium: mineral essential for bones and teeth heart disease: any disorder of the heart or its blood supply, including heart attack, atherosclerosis, and coronary artery disease hypertension: high blood pressure diabetes: inability to regulate level of sugar in the blood obesity: the condition of being overweight, according to established norms based on sex, age, and height chronic: over a long period diet: the total daily food intake, or the types of foods eaten fiber: indigestible plant material which aids digestion by providing bulk fat: type of food molecule rich in carbon and hydrogen, with high energy content genetic: inherited or related to the genes prevalence: describing the number of cases in a population at any one time obese: above accepted standards of weight for sex, height, and age insulin: hormone released by the pancreas to regulate level of sugar in the blood

Breadfruit (being prepared here) is one of many starchy fruits traditionally eaten by Pacific Islanders. The diet also includes abundant fresh vegetables, fish, and nuts. [Photograph by Wolfgang Kaehler. Corbis. Reproduced by permission.]

lactose intolerance: inability to digest lactose, or milk sugar stroke: loss of blood supply to part of the brain, due to a blocked or burst artery in the brain cancer: uncontrolled cell growth protein: complex molecule composed of amino acids that performs vital functions in the cell; necessary part of the diet

Fruits, fruit juices, vegetables, and nuts (e.g., peanuts, macadamia, and litchi) are eaten in abundance, while milk and other dairy products are uncommon (there is a high prevalence of lactose intolerance among Pacific Islanders). Coconuts are plentiful, and both the milk and dried fruit are used to flavor meals. Pigs, chickens, and cows exist on the Pacific Islands, but in areas like Fiji they are expensive, so local villagers tend to purchase them only for large celebrations and feasts. Modern conveniences exist in many areas, but it is not uncommon for villagers to cook on outdoor fires or kerosene stoves. Many villagers still eat with their hands, and a bowl of water is provided for washing hands (a guest may request one before the meal if it is not offered).

Pacific Islanders typically eat three meals a day. Breakfast usually includes cereal and coffee, while traditional meals are eaten for lunch and dinner. However, in areas such as Hawaii, Samoa, and Guam, traditional foods now contribute only minimally to daily intake, most of which is made up of imported foods or fast food.

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