About The Resilience Institute

The Resilience Institute is part of WWU Huxley’s College of the Environment. It facilitates scholarship, education, and practice on reducing social and physical vulnerability through sustainable community development, as a way to minimize loss and enhance recovery from disasters in Washington State and its interdependent global communities.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Traditional Foods

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);


Fort Yukon king, subsistence (gill net) fishing in Fort Yukon river

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,


Families in Munje village

Fresh or unprocessed dairy products and non-GMO oils in the 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).


Vending machine for fresh, unpasteurized (and organic) cow’s milk in Bra, Italy (the home of SLOW FOOD)________________________________________

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.


Preserving King salmon in a community kitchen in Fort Yukon

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.

With my rudimentary sentences in Swahili (to explain who I was and what I was interested in, what foods villagers eat and how much they must pay for store-bought foods…-- “I’m a teacher…” “I want to understand what you eat……”). I saw how things are changing slowly in the village, in part due to the high costs for store-bought staples of their foods -- Sh 90 for a kg of ugali, which is maize flour or ground maize, Sh 70 for a kg of rice, Sh 150 for a kg of vegetable oil, Sh 70 for a kg of dried beans, Sh 50 for a forearm’s-length of cassava, and Sh 15 for a handful of spinach-like greens (at approximately Sh 80 to a U.S. dollar). Some foods in major cities, such as Nairobi, are much cheaper -- ugali and cassava, for example, presumably due to transportation costs. Yet, much of the pricing seems counterintuitive. For more information click here.

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.



Fresh, unpasteurized cow’s milk in Laikipia


Fresh, unpasteurized camel’s milk in Laikipia


Villagers in Munje enjoy a wide variety of fruits

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).


Kimbo hydrogenated vegetable oil is replacing oils found in coconut products


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


Money is needed in the village to build homes

Note: All photos were taken by G. Berardi



1 comment:

Marshall said...

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Warm Regards

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