This year's Fiji Day posters of "Put up a flag, put down a lovo" reminded me of an old Australia Day campaign of "put another prawn on the barbee", linking national pride to local food traditions.
Fijians are among the most patriotic people on the planet, with this year's theme of a "Celebrate a United Fiji" summing up this country's progress of bringing together without discrimination of race or religion.all the different races.
Culturally, this country is a living ancient civilisation that has been made richer by the European, Chinese and Indian immigrants, and when it comes to growing fresh foods, Fiji's agricultural history and abundance of fertile land is the envy of the world. Fiji is indeed, an example of how the rest of the world could be.
Fiji's Museum and historical library holds records and missionary accounts of many intriguing myths, legends and missionary stories of pre-colonial Fiji, including cannibalism.
Museum Director, Sagale Buadromo helped me find a fascinating story about the links between cannibalism, lovo, the borodino bush shrub and tomato chutney!
After cooking the spoils of war, the lovo man-meat was often eaten with a spiced relish made from the tomato-like fruit of the sou bakola plant. I wondered if this was the reason why so many Fijians love tomato sauce with just about any food!
Whether it is with tavioka, dalo, french fries, pizza and even curries, Fijians today love eating their food with tomato sauce just as their cannibal ancestors did!
Like a lot of traditional Fijian cooking, there is plenty of room to adapt and improve the basic recipes with more taste and flavour.
Adding ginger, cinnamon and lemongrass to roast pork, before you put the meat in the lovo, infuses the meat with herbal infusions that brings the meat to life.
Using organic sea salt instead of table salt is also preferred, as you use less of the natural salt and it is less processed. Like the local fruit juice last week, I don't understand why I can't find organic Fiji sea salt when there are so many salt lakes on both Viti Levu and Vanua Levu islands.
Maybe this is yet another opportunity for an enterprising Fijian! Sea salt is prized by many chefs and resorts, as we know of its healthier properties and minimal use in cooking compared to normal salt. If someone could bottle the local sea salt and infuse it with tropical spice and fruit flavours, I know it would be a worldwide hit. Organic Fijian sea salt infused with coconut, pineapple, papaya, cinnamon, ginger or lemongrass could be another export opportunity for the country.
The pumpkin vakalolo recipe I featured last week is an adaptation of the classic cassava vakalolo and uses an infused spice syrup to create multiple levels of new flavours in an old recipe. By adding sweet spices like mint, basil, cinnamon and lime peels, you can add more depths of flavour to coconut milk.
When you taste the lolo, your tongue can also taste the different herbs and spices, turning a traditionally sweet dessert into something extra special but still Fijian. This version also uses just a pot to create a warm, thickened and sweetened vegetable that looks strange but has so much flavour!
The black BBQ cooker I used to create my above-the-ground lovo can be found at shops like Cost U Less in Suva. They are a great alternative to digging a pit, especially in rainy weather, and you can also buy self lighting charcoal that starts a fire straight away.
Each charcoal bead contains its own fuel, so starting a fire is as simple as lighting the beads with a match. Be careful to use these charcoal beads outdoors only and wait for them to turn from black to white, allowing the fuel to burn-off otherwise your eyes and food will be affected.
I spent Fiji Day in Navuso village, just outside of Nausori, not to commemorate independence day, but to bury an old friend and Castaway Island elder, Nemani Kasaqa. I've been to a number of Fijian funerals but when it is for someone that has touched your life, the ceremony and ritual is even more sad.
Nemani read this column every Sunday and would come up to me to encourage talking about healthy eating and giving his people more ideas to stop eating rubbish foods. He used to say that I had become more Fijian than any other foreigner, and even more so than some Fijian-born people he knew.
Like so many people in Fiji, Nemani had succumbed to high blood pressure, leading to a heart attack at only 57 years of age. Holding back emotions and tears as I watched him being buried, I could not help but think of the Ministry of Health's reduced salt advertisements.
Refined white salt is the number one enemy that can lead to heart disease and high blood pressure. It clogs the arteries and puts enormous stress on the body to move blood around the vessels via the heart.
All the recipes on the TV show have no or very little salt to promote a healthy heart.
Taking the salt off the table is just one giant step that all Fijians must change.
It is a bad habit born out of a lack of seasoning during cooking, which is why my recipes are full of flavour so that there is no need to add more salt at the table. Reducing foods that have hidden excess salt also needs to be seriously addressed.
These include roadside Indian snacks, instant noodle seasoning sachets, packet chips and junk snacks.
I am heartened to see that a few of Fiji's manufacturers are beginning to produce foods that have less salt and less artificial chemicals. This is a good start. Every time I see salt on the table I will be thinking of Nemani. Rest in peace my friend, you were a proud Fijian warrior who epitomised human kindness, respect and love of culture. Fiji Day now means something different to me. I am even more determined to spread the message of healthy eating to combat disease.
* Catch Chef Seeto's new cooking show "Taste of Paradise" on Fiji One and Sky Pacific every Thursday 8pm and repeated on Saturday at 5.30pm. Follow his cooking adventures on his Facebook page "Fijian Food Safari"