Culture and economics determine the food that we eat

The food security of Ugandan-Canadians, as is the case for the majority of Ugandans who are net buyers of food, is dependent on their economic access to food, in other words, their purchasing power. Ugandan-Canadians and Ugandans alike grapple with issues such as earning money to buy food, how much money to spend on food, who in the household is responsible for paying for food, who in the household is responsible for going out to shop for food, and who in the household decides what food to buy.

Ugandan food is expensive in Canada: 1 kg of matooke in Canada costs CDN$10.00, the equivalent of approximately Ush 23,870; while it costs on average Ush 3,570, the equivalent of CDN$1.50, in the farmers’ markets in Uganda. This is a 95 percent price difference. The cost of air freight contributes to Ugandan foods being very expensive in Canada; Ugandan food items sold by Chakula Tamu are sourced from East Africa and exported and flown to Canada on commercial airlines from Uganda, via the United Kingdom.

Ugandan-Canadians, with insufficient food purchasing power to afford their culturally acceptable foods, resort to substituting Ugandan foods with the closest available alternative. The interview participants shared that they sometimes consume substitute foods imported into Canada from countries in South and Central America, such as cassava, sweet potatoes, yams and Hawaiian plantain. These substitute foods are also relatively more expensive than locally produced Canadian food because they are imported; nevertheless, they are apparently affordable and more readily available in the mainstream Canadian supermarkets than Ugandan foods. The participants expressed a general view that the substitute foods are culturally inferior to Ugandan foods, for example, describing substitute bananas as unlike matooke in colour and in texture, needing longer cooking time, and being cumbersome and tedious to cook.

Parallels can be drawn between the insufficient availability and high cost of Ugandan food in Canada and the insufficient social access to food of Ugandan-Canadians with the situation of Ugandans who live away from their ancestral home villages, districts or regions. Many Ugandans, for various reasons such as — employment or manmade or natural disasters — live in urban centres and in areas away from their original ancestral homes, sometimes in places that are predominantly populated by people of an ethnic group other than their own. How do Ugandans who are living in Uganda, but away from their ancestral homes, ensure they have access to food that meets the culture-specific criteria for their ethnic group? How is the economic access to food of Ugandans affected by their efforts to ensure their social access to food? How does the purchasing power of Ugandans affect their ability to ensure their social access to food? The findings of this study raise these questions and point to the need for answers in order to address the food insecurity crisis in Uganda.

The Ugandan foods that Chakula Tamu imports into Canada are transported by air because most of them are perishable. Matooke is highly perishable; the owner of Chakula Tamu estimates that from the time of harvest, it can last for a maximum of a week before it ripens and spoils if not refrigerated; when refrigerated at 8–12 degrees Celsius it can last for three to four weeks. Matooke is highly sensitive to heat and, according to the owner of Chakula Tamu, during the summer, the Ugandan company that supplies Chakula Tamu with matooke can suffer losses of up to 50 percent; this is partly attributed to delays in custom clearance procedures in Canada, and partly to the farmers who may have supplied the exporter in Uganda with matooke that they harvested late.

Parallels can be drawn between the challenges faced by Chakula Tamu and their suppliers who trade in fresh and highly perishable foods, and the situation of Ugandans who are growing food as a business. What are the costs for inter-regional transportation of fresh food produce, for instance, from Uganda’s rural areas to its urban areas and from one Ugandan district to another? How do the costs of inter-regional transportation of food affect the ability of Ugandans to ensure their social access to food? How do the costs of inter-regional transportation of food affect Ugandan farmers’ net income? How much food produce do Ugandan farmers lose as a result of poor infrastructure? How do losses of food produce affect Ugandan farmers’ net income and Uganda’s gross domestic product? These are valid questions, relevant to the prevalence of food insecurity in Uganda, and for which Uganda needs answers.

This is post is extracted from a research paper that I authored and is published in an edited volume, titled: “Africa Rising: A continents future through the eyes of emerging scholars”  http://www.cigionline.org/publications/2013/2/africa-rising-continent%E2%80%99s-future-through-eyes-of-emerging-scholars-0.

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2 comments

  1. kakwenza · · Reply

    Norah and Matege thanks for the article, i appreciate

    Like

  2. Charles Matege · · Reply

    Thanks Norah for this post, If I gather correctly, food from a cultural background context and its relationship to human dispersal nationally and globally is such a notion filled with alot sentimentalism.

    Meaning of food to the individuale and his culinary pallet.
    Ever since childhood, food has been brought to the fore fronf of most Ugandans relationships as the bonding agent and the portrayal of the love of nurturing the growing mind and weary body. I will talk about the individual. A lot of memories are tied to food and the cullinary pallet that enabled our happy childhood. With this imotional buggage wired in our DNA, there is no way of getting away from the facts that influenced our upbringing.

    Following the post, dispersal of our kind within national boarders and accross international boundaries does not make us new beings with regards our food cultural background and nutrient pallet that ment alot while growing up. Switching to completely new diets is tantamount to betrayal of the cullinary love attached in the pallet of nurients used in nurturing our childhood minds and bodies. If I may give some examples of those very memorable food delights like Maize on the cob and flour, millet flour, Cassava tubers and flour. Therefore, despite the food miles covered, the heart seeks out for these rare food ingridients that are usually way too expensive for the budget of a normar working family. Thanks once again and sorry about the topic deviations but, when food is mentioned, all my childhood memories come rushing into my current day and I hold them dearly and pashionately. My only simple reason is food as a direct relative for love dispensation.

    Liked by 1 person

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