Crocombe, managing director of The Rarotongan, supports hiking prices on foods with high sugar, salt or saturated fat contents, to force people to buy healthy food instead.
“I’m probably 20kg overweight myself, so I can hear people saying I’m in no position to criticise,” said the businessman. “But every time I go to town, I feel like I’m trim, taut and terrific – because I see these 19 and 20 year-olds just rolling around.”
Crocombe, who is a vegan, said there had been a stark change in just 30 to 40 years. The Cooks had gone from an agrarian economy to eating “highly processed, highly toxic foods” and doing little exercise.
The government was spending 80 per cent of its health budget on non-communicable diseases: “Is the use of taxes a legitimate way to modify people’s behaviour? Of course it is. We do it every day with toxic substances like alcohol and cigarettes. That’s been effective.
“So we should be taxing the hell out of bad food products.”
He said if Cook Islanders went back to the diets of their grandparents – fish, lots of vegetables, some taro, maniota, kumara and rukau – they’d be 70 per cent of the way back to good health.
And if they exercised, and they’d be 90 per cent there. “We used to have a great diet, and we all had to exercise because everyone walked around, they didn’t have cars, we worked in the farms and everybody fished.”
He recalled being late to a meeting with senior figures, because he’d been held up by all the Tereora College students making their way slowly back to school with cream buns. When he told the officials the shopkeeper should be reported to police, they laughed uproariously. The owner of the shop was in the meeting – she was the deputy prime minister.
He also told of going to Punanga Nui market to buy healthy fruit and vegetables, only to see the stallholders take the money and go across to CITC Supermarket to buy boxes of processed meat. “I think, something’s not right in this exchange.”