I spend six month in a year in Jakarta, Indonesia, while the rest in a quaint Upstate New York. I consider myself so lucky that I get to experience both world. You see, they are the two most opposite worlds: Jakarta is so hectic, congested, polluted, and socially unequal with 11 million people dictate its pulse, whereas Ithaca is surrounded by gorges, woods, open space, with 30 thousand people sharing unmatched beautiful, ample spaces with most residents connected to higher education institutions.
I am honored to be able to see these two places with different set of eyes every time. Twice a year I bring back and forth fresh perspectives half across the globe (if you jam a stick in a globe on your office desk starting in New York about 45 degrees you will hit Indonesia on its end, sort off).
This year, our micro brewery Heal! was given opportunities to be displayed in several health food stores in Jakarta. Yay! We got to meet their proprietors and patrons and quickly learned that Jakarta is not short of people with aspirations to introduce and/or follow healthy lifestyles. The numbers of health food stores are mushrooming and imported healthy products are the norm.
Chia seeds, almonds, walnuts, acai, goji berries, moringa powder, coconut oil, coconut sugar are among the highly demanded items. Chia seeds, almonds, walnuts, acai, goji berries, are raking high prices, because they are in high demand and not locally grown. But moringa powder, coconut oil and coconut sugar premium price can not be justified: they are ubiquitous here. After all, Indonesia is an archipelago country laced with coconut and moringa trees.
Then, why do people still gobble them up at such premium price? Well, here is where my economic degree comes in handy, finally. Two things: the internet and asymmetric information.
If you google 'healthy eating' in a split second there will be 669 million hits, whereas 'healthy lifestyle' 710 million, and within those there will be subsets of people saying contradictory things about same things. People really need ninja skills to narrow down searches. Without enough time and curious mindset, many will quickly succumb to western memes, headers, savvy bloggers and influencers saying things about what to eat and do. Chia? Oats? Checked. Coconut Oil? Checked, even though couple of years ago I still remember it had bad reps. Agave? You guess it, checked.
Asymmetric information happens when one party in a transaction has less information than the other. Asymmetric information almost always cause an adverse selection, that people make less than optimal choice.
In our isolated case here, problems stem from the facts that traders will simply pick up on the demand cue and monetary incentives and respond with importing stuffs. Consumers, on the other hands, rarely bother to check what make food labeled healthy. As someone trained as an economist with deep concerns on carbon footprints, I see a problem here. Domestic substitutions are available, but the power of internet and mindset are like immovable mountains.
My friend picked up a 100 gram bag, a US brand moringa powder for an equivalent of US$9 in a health food store. I know quite well that the same bag would cost half in the US. That even after taking into account that the brand might have imported moringa from either India, Sri Lanka, and wait for it: Indonesia. When I pointed out that moringa is actually daun kelor that I always cooked and fed myself with, especially in post-pregnancy, she shrieked. She could have gotten 2 kilos of moringa powder from a reputable domestic vendor. Same thing with coconut oil and sugar; you would think we know gula jawa and gula aren are in fact coconut sugar. Those imported ones cost an arm and a leg. And turmeric capsules from the US? I would opt for the real stuffs from traditional market and make jamu or tea with them.
Ah, the power of information and the lack of it.
I wish we all could just sit back for a second and think. We all want to be healthy, but we all can be healthier with less resources and environmental impacts. We can dig our own ancient traditions, eat macro food like our grandma used to do, find local sources for healthy food and their alternatives for imported goods. We will help our country's balance of trade, rejuvenate our agriculture, help our farmers, reduce carbon footprints, create demand for organic farm practice in Indonesia to create multipliers to farmers and increase their welfare.
Being mindful is not all about meditation and yoga, oh no. You can be mindful using the power you have in shaping your health while consciously creating positive impacts around you. We all have that power, let's exercise it.