This past year, I have had rewarding opportunities to observe traditional food cultures in varied regions of the world. These are:
Athabascan Indian in the interior of Alaska (the traditional Tanana Chiefs Conference tribal lands) in July, 2008 (for more, read below);
Swahili coastal tribes in the area of Munje village (population about 300), near Msambweni, close to the Tanzania border in December, 2008-January, 2009 (for more, read below); and,Laikipia region of Kenya (January, 2009), a German canton of Switzerland (March, 2009), and the Piemonte-Toscana region of northern/central Italy (images only, February-March, 2009).
In Fort Yukon, Alaska, salmon is a mainstay of the diet. Yet, among the Athabascan Indians, threats to subsistence foods and stresses on household economics abound. In particular, high prices for external energy sources (as of July, 2008, almost $8 for a gallon of gasoline and $6.50 for a gallon of diesel, which is essential for home heating), as well as low Chinook salmon runs for information click here, and moose numbers.
Additional resource management issues pose threats to sustaining village life – for example, stream bank erosion along the Yukon River, as well as uneven management in the Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge. People are worried about ever-rising prices for fuels and store-bought staples, and fewer and fewer sources of wage income. The result? Villagers are moving out from outlying areas into “hub” communities like Fort Yukon -- or another example, Bethel in Southwest Alaska – even when offered additional subsidies, such as for home heating. But, in reality, “hubs” often offer neither much employment nor relief from high prices.
In Munje village in Kenya, the Digo, a Bantu-speaking, mostly Islamic tribe in the southern coastal area of Kenya, enjoy the possibilities of a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, and fish/oils.
Breakfast in the village typically consists of mandazi (a fried bread similar to a doughnut), and tea with sugar. Lunch and dinner is typically ugali and samaki (fish), maybe with some dried cassava or chickpeas.
On individual shambas (small farms), tomatoes, cassava, maize, cowpeas, bananas, mangos, and coconut are typically grown. Ugali is consumed every day, as are cassava, beans, oil, fish -- and rice, coconut, and chicken, depending on availability.
Even with their own crops, villagers today want very much to enter the market economy and will sell products from their shambas to buy staples and the flour needed to make mandazis, which they in turn sell. Sales of mandazis (and mango and coconut, to a lesser extent) bring in some cash for villagers.
A treasured food is, in fact, the coconut. This set of pictures show how coconut is used in the village. True, coconut oil now is reserved only for frying mandazi. But it also is used as a hair conditioner, and the coconut meat is eaten between meals. I noted also that dental hygiene and health were good in the village. Perhaps the coconut and fish oils influence this (as per the work of Dr. Weston A. Price).
Photos L-R: Using a traditional conical basket (kikatu), coconut milk is pressed from the grated meat; Straining coconut milk from the grated meat, which is then heated to make oil; Common breakfast food (and the main source of cash income), the mandazi, is still cooked in coconut oil
Note: All photos were taken by G. Berardi