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Culture, Food, and Identity

Sixth in a Series on Culture and Development

Mervyn Claxton

Food, cooking, and eating habits play a central role in every culture. Eating is never a purely
biological activity since the consumption of food, whether it is simply or elaborately prepared, is
always imbued with meaning, which is understood and communicated in various symbolic ways.
Preparing food for consumption, and eating socially, are activities that are conducted for purposes
other than mere nutrition. The symbolic meaning of food sometimes has little to do with the food
itself, as in the use of rice to shower newly-weds in certain cultures, and eating socially has less to
do with nutrition than with communication and relationships. Food has also played an important
part in religion, helping to define the separateness of one creed from another by means of dietary
taboos. The techniques utilized to prepare and process foods and the ways of serving and
consuming it, which vary from culture to culture, can have an important influence on social and
familial relationships. American fast foods and the manner in which they are consumed, for
example, do not encourage those who favour such foods to spend an entire evening conversing with
friends over a meal, either at home or at a restaurant, which is a favourite social activity for many
continental Europeans. The fact that American families eat together as a family much less often
than those in Europe is reflected in the difference in family solidarity in the two cultures.

Food choices, eating habits, and the preparation of certain foods often reveal distinctions of
age, sex, status, culture, and even occupation. Eating together is an important social act, being a
recognition of fellowship and mutual social obligation, and it is often accompanied by customs or
rituals which are specific to the cultural group concerned, or even to a particular class or subgroup
within the larger social group. People who eat very different foods, or similar foods in different
ways, are often thought to be different, and eating habits are often closely linked to the types of
food consumed. As Sidney Mintz observes: "Food habits can serve as vehicles of deep emotion.
They are normally learned early and well and are mostly inculcated by affectively significant
adults; hence they can acquire enduring sentimental power. One does not become an adult in
the abstract; it must happen in terms of some particular, substantive body of cultural
material. Food and eating are positioned near the core of such materials because of their life-
giving and essential (though usually routine and spuriously perfunctory) nature. As such, they

are repetitively constitutive of ones culturally specific humanity. Children are trained
accordingly. The learning of personal fastidiousness, manual dexterity, cooperation and
sharing, restraint and reciprocity are commonly linked to the consumption of food by
children. Indeed getting to eat with adults as an adult, rather than as a child, may be one of
the major hurdles of growing up in some cultures." (Tasting Food, Tasting Freedom: Excursions
into Eating, Culture, and The Past, pp.69-70, 1996.)

Most civilizations have been built on the cultivation of one staple food crop, which is
almost invariably endowed with religious significance, the origin of which is usually shrouded in
myth. In most cultures also, people often do not feel satisfied if their principal meal does not
involve a product of the traditional staple food. Thus, the diet of seventy-five per cent of the worlds
population is still based on one principal starch food. The gradual disappearance of traditional foods
and traditional cuisine, as a result of increasing internationalization of certain standardized Western
foods is erosive of the cultures of non-Western societies as well as the cultural identity of the people

Mintz states that African slaves in the Caribbean not only used food and cooking as a form
of creative expression but, also, that the very process of creating a cuisine of their own was one of
the building-block features in the (re)construction of their culture and cultural identity.
Furthermore, their taste in food influenced the tastes of the masters. Many of the foods the
masters would come to eat and prize in so-called slave societies they would learn about from
the slaves." (p.36).

Technological progress, economic power, and the development of modern transportation

and communication systems have enabled Western/Northern peoples to extend their own food
preferences to the remotest parts of the South. The gradual acquisition, by many peoples of the
South, of the culturally-determined eating habits and food preferences in the West and the North not
only intensified the process of their assimilation of Western/Northern culture and cultural values
but, more importantly perhaps, it also accelerated the erosion of their indigenous culture and their
cultural identity by encouraging them to abandon their traditional foods which became associated
with a lower social status. Football is the most popular game in the world, both in terms of the
geographical scope of its appeal and the number of people who play and watch it. When
MacDonalds and Coca Cola were appointed the official food and drink suppliers for the 1998
World Cup competition, it gave those American fast foods an enormous fillip, serving as it did to

reaffirm, in the eyes of hundreds of millions of people in the South, the pre-eminence and
desirability of such foods as well as a perceived superiority of the culture that produced them.

The present trend of foods and food preferences moving in a North-South direction is a
reversal of historic trends when the flow was in the opposite direction. Historically, foods from the
South not only made an invaluable contribution to economic development in the North, and to the
latter's cuisine, but they were also responsible for bringing about fundamental social changes in that
part of the world, certain of which proved to be of inestimable benefit to societies in the North. Five
of those foods are sugar, tea, coffee, chocolate, and potatoes. Cane sugar, the cultivation of which
began in India around 400 A.D., became important in seventeenth-century Europe principally
because it was needed as a sweetener for tea, coffee, chocolate, which are all naturally bitter drinks.

The introduction of the three non-alcoholic beverages - tea, coffee and chocolate - occurred
at a crucially important stage in Europe's development. On the eve of the Industrial Revolution,
European development had reached a stage that required a higher degree of social restraint and
worker discipline, which was essential for industrial production. However, a tradition of heavy
drinking was so deeply imbedded in contemporary European social mores that, without the
appearance of new nonalcoholic beverages as an alternative to beer and wine, such a tradition
would not have been easily discarded to meet the demands of an industrializing society.

Chocolate (xocolatl), which is of Aztec origin, served as a currency throughout the Aztec
Empire. The modern expression "Money doesn't grow on trees" originates in the astonished
comment made by one of the Spanish conquistadors, in a letter he wrote home, after he saw the use
to which the Aztecs put cocoa beans: "Here, money grows on trees!" Moctezuma loved drinking
chocolate in the form of cocoa. Although, the cocoa drink was considered too bitter for European
tastes when it was first introduced there (sugar being generally unavailable at the time), Spanish
ladies at the court are said to have gone "mad" over it. Perhaps they had heard that the Aztecs
celebrated chocolate for its aphrodisiac powers. Subsequently, the French king, Louis XIV, who
was married to a Spanish Infanta, was persuaded to introduce the cocoa drink to the court at
Versailles, which immediately made it a fashionable and socially-desirable drink. Madame du
Barry, one of the mistresses of King Louis XV of France, is said to have always ensured that her
lovers drank a brimming cup of chocolate before they were granted entrance to her boudoir.
Casanova was also apparently persuaded of chocolate's aphrodisiac qualities, for he reportedly
drank a glass of it daily at the Florian Cafe in Venice, claiming that it was much more "stimulating"

than champagne.

Tea has been known in China since 2700 B. C. where, for more than two millennia it was
used for medicinal purposes. It became a daily drink only around A.D. 350, which spurred its
cultivation. Tea, which has since become the most widely-drunk beverage in the world, gave rise to
important cultural traditions and social practices in certain countries, among which are the Japanese
tea ceremony and the English afternoon tea. Tea is the favourite non-alcoholic drink of English
people of all social classes. A cup of tea is such a vital part of everyday life for the majority of
English people, and so integral to their daily routine, that it is difficult to imagine life in England
without it. The role alcoholic drinks played in English social life in the 18th century, when tea first
became available,is graphically illustrated in the work of William Hogarth, whose famous
engravings Gin Lane" and "Beer Street, completed in 1751, graphically depicted the prevalence
of alcoholism.

During the nineteenth century, the English upper classes came to fear that the gin-sodden
working class would be difficult to control and unable to work. A movement therefore developed in
support of temperance which urged people to drink only moderate quantities of alcohol or,
preferably, none at all. Tea was useful to the temperance movement because it offered a refreshing,
thirst-quenching alternative to alcohol that was cheap and safe to drink. Preachers of temperance
urged people to sign a pledge to give up drinking alcohol, which millions did. Often, this took place
at mass meetings where tea would be served to those who attended. The afternoon tea is a veritable
social tradition in England. One cannot imagine English society functioning without it. Tradition
has it that afternoon tea was 'invented' by Anna Maria, the wife of the seventh Duke of Bedford,
who, in 1841, started drinking tea and having a mid-afternoon snack to bridge the long gap between
lunch and dinner. It soon developed into a social occasion, with the Duchess inviting guests to join
her for afternoon tea at 5 o'clock.

Coffee, which originated in Ethiopia, assumed its modem form in the thirteenth century
when the beans began to be cleaned and roasted before infusion. The fashion for coffee reached
Aden in the fifteenth century and then spread to Cairo, Damascus, and Istanbul where the first
coffee house was established in 1554. The first European coffee houses were opened in Oxford in
1650, Marseille in 1671, and Paris in 1672. The introduction of coffee and coffee drinking provided
an important focus for European social life. For the two hundred years following their establishment
in Europe, the most famous coffee houses were to be found in London where they became

important venues for discussions on politics, literature, art, and business. Edward Lloyd opened his
coffee house in London in 1687 and it soon became the favourite meeting place for businessmen in
shipping and insurance. Subsequently, Edward Lloyd's coffee house stopped serving coffee and
transformed itself into what eventually became the worlds largest insurance company Lloyds.
In the nineteenth century, the London coffee house, whose patronage had been all-male from the
very beginning, developed into the exclusive Gentlemens Club - an important social institution in
English life from which women were (and, to some extent, still are) excluded.

By the nineteenth century, the French caf had reached its zenith as a meeting place for
intellectuals and artists. Although women were not initially permitted to enter a caf, that
prohibition was subsequently lifted. Unlike its London counterpart, which was a closed meeting
place, the French caf opened out onto the street, thus facilitating greater social interaction as well
as a mixing of the sexes. That development may have had some influence on the subsequent
different evolution of the relations between the sexes in the two countries, as well as the fact that
all-male social institutions, again unlike England, never developed in France.

The European middle classes, in the late seventeenth century, regarded coffee as the great
sobering beverage, in contrast to previously known drinks, which were all alcoholic. Before tea,
coffee, and chocolate had won a permanent place in the European diet, people used to drink large
amounts of beer and wine, the former being, after bread, the most important source of nourishment
for Central and Northern Europeans until the introduction of the potato. It has been estimated that
an English family, including children, drank about three litres of beer daily, per person, in the
seventeenth century. The brewing of beer, like the making of bread was, at the time, considered part
of a housewifes duties. Because of its sobering qualities, coffee fitted the puritan ethic and the
emphasis it placed on abstinence. Coffee houses soon displaced taverns in Europe, and breakfast
coffee replaced the beer soup of earlier times. Jules Michelet, the nineteenthcentury French
historian, saw coffee as the sobering agent of an entire epoch, describing it as the sober drink which
dethroned the tavern in England. Coffee was also regarded as a drink that facilitated abstinence by
reducing sexual energy, even to the point of impotence. For that very reason, it was strongly
recommended to celibate clerics.

Potato is the world's most widely grown tuber crop and the fourth largest food crop in terms
of fresh produce, after rice, wheat and maize. It originated in the area of contemporary Peru and
Bolivia and was introduced to Europe around 1700. Once established in Europe, the potato soon

became an important food and food crop. There is a monument to the sixteenth-century English
buccaneer, Francis Drake, in the German city of Offenburg, who is portrayed holding a potato in his
hand. The inscription on the monument reads: To Sir Francis Drake, who introduced the potato
to Europe, A.D. 1586. In the name of millions of peasants who bless his eternal memory. The
German writer, Gnter Grass, is of the firm opinion that the introduction of the potato was a more
important event in the history of the German people than all the military victories of Frederick the
Great combined. Gnter Grass considers the potato to be a crucial factor in the development of
Europe. It was the potato, he argues, that made possible the industrialization of Europe and the rise
of the proletariat. The coming of the potato, a highly nourishing food which is also very cheap
because it can be grown quickly and economically, liberated the masses from ageold hunger.
According to Gnter Grass, the nutritious qualities of potato also helped to produce a sturdier
working class, and its high productivity and ease of cultivation permitted more people to be
released from farm work, thus making them available for factory labour. The factories, in turn, led
to the development of a strong labouring class whose unions helped to democratize Europe.

Food aid from the North, which often takes the form of foods which cannot be grown locally
in the tropical climate of countries in the South, has helped promote the view among their peoples
that traditional foods like cassava, yam, quinoa etc. are poor peoples food. It is also not unrelated
to the fact that the importance of such traditional foods, relative to cereals grown in the North, has
decreased worldwide. The rapid development of consumer tastes for certain foods that cannot be
grown in countries of the South not only condemns the latter to permanent dependence on external
supplies of such foods but is also culturally alienating, given the central importance of food in a
peoples culture.

The concept of natural resources, which is applied in determining the food potential in a
given country or region, is essentially a cultural one. It is mediated, defined, and circumscribed by
the particular experiences, tastes, attitudes, as well as the cultural, economic, and historical choices
of the cultural group to which the individuals making such a determination belong. Such a cultural
conception of what constitutes food resources influences calculations of food security and food
stocks/reserves, which are always quantified in cereals because that is the basic food grouping and
nutritional standard of the North and the West, where tubers, root, and tree crops have little
importance in overall nutrition. Nonetheless, a significant proportion of people in countries of the
South, especially in Africa and Latin America, particularly among the poorest sections of their
populations, continue to depend largely on non-cereal foods for their nutritional requirements.

In March 2008, FAOs index of food prices for cereals, dairy products, meat, sugar, and oils,
increased by 57% compared with their level in March 2007. The highest monthly increase in world
food prices in almost 20 years was recorded in December 2007. The serious food crisis which a
growing number of countries in the South currently face because of the recent increase in world
food prices, and the acute shortage of available food supplies caused by it, have finally and rather
belatedly persuaded national and international authorities to address the problem of ensuring food
security at the national level. FAO estimates that high food prices will persist for another decade,
and the World Bank considers the present crisis sufficiently serious to warrant the allocation, on
May 29 (2008), of an emergency sum of $1.2 billion to assist the worse hit countries in the South.
The first disbursements have gone to three countries, one of which is a Caricom country Haiti, the
other two being African. Although there is some recognition in certain international quarters that
food security can be established in food deficient countries of the South, only if their non-cereal
food resources are exploited and developed, the culturally-inspired concept of what constitutes
natural food resources inevitably, and perhaps unconsciously, influences international action in that
respect. The first knowledge that Western/Northern nutritionists had that milk was not a universal
food came through the adverse effects, on many people in the recipient countries, of millions of
tons of food aid in the form of dried milk they received from the North in the 1960s.

Milk contains lactose, a substance that promotes the absorption of calcium by the intestines.
However, the lactose molecule needs to be broken down into two major components: the sugars -
glucose and galactose - in order to pass through the walls of the small intestine, a process that is
effected by means of an enzyme, lactase. Since the only function of lactase is to break down milk
sugars, the gene determining lactase production is switched off in the child after it is weaned.
Although many people who live in societies where cattle is reared and where milk is part of the
normal diet can continue to digest lactose throughout their adult lives, others without such a
nutritional background often suffer extreme discomfort when they drink milk because the
undigested lactose, which accumulates in the large intestine, ferments and produces flatulence,
distension, severe intestinal cramps, and diarrhoea.

Countries of the South need to make an inventory of food resources, one that is based on
intrinsic nutritional values and not on Western/Northern culturally-determined criteria, which are
often reinforced by commercial considerations Every country in the South which finds itself in a
food-deficit situation should re-think and re-invent its own means of nourishment, in the context of

its own cultural values, its traditional food habits, and its natural food resources. Such countries
should begin by identifying and revalorizing local foods, food plants, and plant varieties which
possess exploitable nutritional value, many of which have been abandoned in the name of a
commercial viability that was largely determined by Northern cultural criteria and Northern food

As far back as the mid-1990s, FAO emphasized that the solution to the problem of the
growing food deficit in Africa, the region most severely hit by the current crisis, must be sought in
increasing agricultural productivity and, especially, in increasing the production of traditional
foods. Given current production trends and the region's limited financial resources, it is unlikely
that its food deficit can be covered by commercial imports. Moreover, with increasing dependence
on imports of temperate-grown foods, such as wheat and wheat flour which cannot be produced in
most of Africa, the region risks finding itself caught in a wheat dependency trap. As Derek Byerlee,
presciently warned more than two decades ago, in an article in the principal FAO journal: "Once
established, such an industry [flour milling] is highly wheat specific and cannot be used to
support processing of locally produced foods to substitute for imports. There is a danger that
as non-wheat, producing countries build up a port-oriented, wheat-grain-handling, storage
and milling infrastructure, they will be trapped into permanent dependence on wheat
imports, even if domestic production of traditional food staples increase." (Avoiding the Wheat
Trap: How Inappropriate Policies Change Dietary Habits, CERES, 1985).

Greater promotion of traditional foods can play an important role in tackling the serious
problem of under-nutrition in Africa because of their recognised nutritional qualities. Niebe, for
example, the consumption of which is decreasing in favour of wheat bread, is very rich in proteins,
of which it contains 20%-25% more than beef and three times that of rice. The amaranth plant
species originated in the Americas but was subsequently introduced, like cassava and maize, to
Africa. The carbohydrate content of amaranth is comparable to that of other cereals, but its protein
and vegetable fat content is higher. One species of amaranth (Amaranthus caudatus ) is not only
rich in protein but its lysine content actually exceeds that of milk.

The flour produced from dried amaranthus grains has excellent cooking qualities and the
bread made from it is said to have a delicious taste of hazlenut. Furthermore, the leaves of the
amaranthus possess two and a half times the vitamin C content of cabbage and, like cassava and
sweet potato leaves, they are rich in carotene which is an important source of vitamin A. (FAO,

Edible Plants of Uganda: The Value of Wild and Cultivated Plants as Food, 1989). Vitamin A
deficiency is the most common cause of preventable childhood blindness from which fully a quarter
of children under five years of age, in Africa and other regions in the South, are at risk. WHO warns
that twenty per cent of children with Vitamin A deficiency face increased risk of death from
common infections. Other traditional foods, such as palm-oil, paw paw, mangoes and yellow-
fleshed sweet potatoes, are also good sources of carotene.

The protein content in millets and sorghum is of a better quality than that found in maize.
They are also rich in both calcium and iron although, as dried grains, they lack vitamins A and C.
Cassava, which shares with amaranthus the quality of being able to grow in marginal conditions,
and its suitability for small farmer cultivation, has the potential to yield two to three times as many
calories per hectare as rice or corn, although it is almost totally lacking in proteins. (Ernest Schusky,
Culture and Agriculture: An Ecological Introduction to Traditional and Modern Farming Systems,
1989). A cassava hybrid, however, has been found to have a protein content of twelve per cent as
compared with less than one per cent found in the standard domesticated variety, Manihot
esculenta. Furthermore, cassava lends itself to intercropping with maize, it tolerates drought and
acid soil, it can be propagated from stem cuttings, and it has been suggested as a source of high
energy forage for developing greater productivity in cattle rearing. Bananas are an excellent energy
food whose calorific value is second only to that of cassava, and are two to three times more
productive than cereals. Bananas are also a good source of potassium and vitamin C.

More research is needed on traditional foods in Africa and elsewhere in the South. With
more research, cassava and food crops such as amaranth, teff, fonio, yams, sweet potatoes, and
plantains could provide Africa with more food security and also make an important contribution to
the regions nutritional requirements. Teff (Eragrostis tef), which was domesticated in Ethiopia and
remained for centuries an exclusively Ethiopian crop, produces tiny grains but its carbohydrate and
protein content is equivalent to, and in some cases, surpasses that of maize, sorghum, wheat, and
barley. Teff is also particularly rich in the amino acids which cannot be synthesized by the human
body and must, consequently, be supplied externally. Those essential amino acids are among the
most important limiting factors of the human diet, but a single daily portion of teff supplies enough
of them to sustain life without any other source of protein, while two daily portions are enough to
ensure good health. (Glyn Jones, Endemic Crop Plants of Ethiopia, Walia, Vol.11, 1988).

Furthermore, the amino acid composition of teff is closer to human dietary requirements
than that of other food plants. Although the crop yield of teff is much lower than other cereals, it is
uniquely adapted to marginal conditions of drought and low rainfall and its particular value (apart
from the nutritional one) is its capacity to produce a harvest when other cereal crops fail. There is
no reason, therefore, why cultivation of teff could not be extended to other suitable agro-ecological
zones in Africa to help boost food production and combat famine and undernutrition in that region.
As FAO correctly states in a 1994 document: "Such traditional foods and means of preparation
and consumption have evolved alongside and in harmony with the rhythm of nature and are
part of cultural life. As these foods tend to be well-suited to their environment, they may also
provide an extra measure of food security during times of seasonal or environmental stress.
At the national level, stimulating the production, processing and marketing of these foods
could also reduce the demand for food for urban centers, and at the same time supporting
and strengthening cultural development". (Food Production Patterns, Culture and Development).

It is most ironic that, while traditional food plants in the South continue to be abandoned by
consumers in their respective native countries in favour of Northern foods which enjoy a higher
social status, those same foods are increasingly sought by consumers in countries of the North,
where nutrition scientists are discovering their nutritional value. The cultural mimicry of the North,
which too often passes for an authentic system of values in many countries in the South, may well
persuade the latter to begin valuing their indigenous foods, because of growing appreciation of them
in the North: "Each year more and more species are being adopted as health foods and
special stores are selling them in increasing amounts. In the near future, the demand for some
tropical foods will increase in such a way that probably within one or two decades the present
pattern of [food] exports between the less developed countries in the South and the most
developed in the 8orth will be widely different. (FAO, 1989, p.iv).

According to the U.N. World Food Programme, hunger and malnutrition affect close to 52.4
million people in Latin America and Caribbean, which is some ten percent of the regions total
population. FAOs 30th Regional Conference for Latin America and the Caribbean, which took place
in Brasilia between 14 and 18 April 2008, declared that eradicating the scourge of hunger in the
region is not only an ethical obligation but also an achievable goal. The problem of hunger in the
region had previously been addressed at FAOs 2004 Regional Conference for Latin America and
the Caribbean (Caracas, April 24-2).

The Vatican's representative to that latter conference made an important and very pertinent
statement concerning the challenge of preserving the community identity of population groups. He
drew the attention of the Conference to the glaring contradiction between the concrete possibilities
available and the political will to take the necessary action, including implementing previous
commitments guaranteeing not only adequate food supplies for the region's population but also their
better health and nutrition. To achieve those objectives, the Vatican representative declared that
"the first reference must be to small farmers, often forgotten by institutions, Indian
communities, uprooted from their habitat and forced to use models of production and
consumption that are foreign to their traditions." Underlining the fact that such action would
have much wider ramifications for those population groups than the mere satisfaction of their
physical needs, the Vatican representative explained that the rural family has an "irreplaceable
function of guardian and continuer of knowledge, traditions, moral values, sense of harmony
and value of life, all assumptions of a concrete solidarity between persons and generations."

Quinoa, the traditional cereal of the Andean region in South America, would be an ideal
food crop with which to commence efforts to achieve the above-stated objectives. In 1975, the U. S.
National Academy of Sciences published a paper drawing the attention of experts to thirty-six
under-exploited tropical plants of promising economic value. (Underdeveloped Tropical Plants with
Promising Economic Value). One of those plant crops is quinoa. Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa) is
a small-grained plant which has been used as a food in the Andes since at least 3,000 B.C. It was
the principal food crop in the Andean Altiplano because corn and other crops could not compete
with it, either in nutritional value or in its ability to grow under harsh conditions. Christened The
Mother Grain by the Indians of the Altiplano who honoured it for its nutritional qualities, it was
the staple food of the Inca Empire, the geographical range of quinoa production in South America
in modern times coinciding with the extent of the Inca Empire at its peak. Quinoa is high in protein,
fibre, unsaturated fats, calcium, iron, phosphorus, and vitamins B and E.

Quinoas nutritional qualities are considered so outstanding that it is currently sold as a

health food in the United States while, ironically, it is not sufficiently utilized in Latin America, its
region of origin, to help combat the problem of undernutrition. Quinoas high protein content
ranges from 2% to 6% above that of most wheats and is much higher than that of other major cereal
foods, such as rice, corn, and barley. Far more important than its high protein content, however, is
the excellent quality of the protein itself. A proteins quality largely determines what proportion of
it is fully utilized by the human organism. The excellent quality of the protein in quinoa results in

the absorption of a higher percentage of it by the human body. The amino acids that cannot be
synthesized by the human organism and must be obtained from food sources are especially
important for children in their early growing years. It holds exceptional promise as a weaning
food for infants, especially in nutritionally-deficient Third World areas. (Omar Sattaur,
Botanical Entrepreneurship, CERES, January/February 1991).

Furthermore, quinoa possesses an exceptional balance between oil, protein, and fat, and its
nutritional balance comes closer than that of any other common cereal grain to the ideal established
by FAO in its reference table for evaluating proteins. Quinoa is also exceptionally rich in lysine,
one of the rarest amino acids of vegetable origin, the content of which is much higher than that of
other cereal grains (three times that of maize, for example). In that respect, it is comparable to
major animal food sources. Most varieties of quinoa are unusually high in the essential sulphur-
bearing amino acids - methionine and cystine - which are especially important in correcting
deficiencies in vegetable diets. "While no single food can supply all of the essential life-
sustaining nutrients, quinua comes as close as any other in the vegetable or animal kingdoms
[to doing so]". (Philip White et al, Nutrient Content and Protein Quality of Quinua and Canihua,
Edible Seed Products of the Andes Mountains, Agricultural and Food Chemistry, June 1955). The
value of quinoa protein for human beings has been estimated to be at least equivalent to that of

Quinoa also has important advantages as a food source because of its versatility. It can be
cooked like rice or made into bread and is used by millions of Indians in the Andes in soups, mixed
grain dishes, as well as for making biscuits, compotes, and a drink called chicha blanca". Despite
its extraordinary nutritional qualities, quinoa has been neglected in Latin America in recent times
because it is widely seen as a native and uncivilized food, and thus not desirable, although there
have been recent efforts by a number of research institutes in the region to promote its use.
However, such efforts would be successful only if quinoa succeeds in improving its social image,
which is an absolutely essential precondition for it to win the necessary social acceptability.

The adaptable qualities of quinoa, enable it to survive the harsh climate of the altiplano. It is
adaptable to rainfall varying from 1,000mm to as little as 250mm annually, as well as to high soil
salinity. During the devastating altiplano drought of 1982-1983, which was the worst in Bolivias
history, quinoa was the least affected of the countrys major crops. Quinoa production fell by only
7% during the drought, as compared with that of potatoes (66%), barley (54%), wheat (44%), and

cassava (34%). In Peru, quinoa was the only crop which suffered no production loss from the
drought whereas the potato crop lost 94% of its normal harvest. Given the fact that climatologists
expect current adverse conditions to worsen rather than improve in coming years because of global
warming, the drought resistant qualities of quinoa make it an ideal candidate to increase present and
future food security in the region.

Traditional food grains can also be utilized as a substitute for wheat, which cannot be grown
in tropical countries. Progress in increasing the substitution of local grains for, and the gradual
replacement of, wheat in the making of bread would also depend on consumer acceptance, in which
actual taste is only one of the several factors involved. However, appropriate pricing policies and
technical progress in increasing the local grain content of composite flours may well be ineffective
if the social status of native foods is not revalued. This is part of a many-faceted problem because
the removal of the stigma from what is native cannot be successfully tackled only in respect of
one food, or even of traditional foods in general. A complete revaluation of the indigenous cultures
of the region would be necessary. Not only in Latin America, but also in the South as a whole, the
term "indigenous" itself would need to shed its negative image for a revaluation of indigenous
culture to be successful. That is a very tall order, indeed, in a world where the term Western is
currently employed more as a cultural standard of excellence than a geographical expression.

A positive development in the above respect would be impossible in Latin America without
a profound change in the attitudes of the region's elites to their pre-Columbian cultural heritage. As
in the case of elites everywhere, the attitudes, habits, and behaviour of Latin American elites set the
standards for what is considered culturally and socially acceptable in the region. However, such a
fundamental change is unlikely to occur in the foreseeable future, for it would effectively destroy
the identity which Latin American elites have constructed, and invalidate the image they have
fashioned, for themselves over the past four centuries. Claiming that culturally independent Latin
America has turned its back on both its Indian and its black heritage, judging them to be barbarous,
Carlos Fuentes declared that the true barbarism of Latin America's European ideologies is that they
excluded all indigenous models of civilization from their notion of civilization. (The Buried Mirror:
Reflections on Spain and the New World, 1992). Felipe Fernandez-Armesto is even more explicit
on the subject: "Most of the elites who ran post-colonial states in the 8ew World could not
usefully or convincingly adopt an indigenous self-image. They were too white, too close to
their European roots and in most cases too implicated in hostility to the Indians."
(Millennium: A History of our Last Thousand Years, pp.336-337, 1995).

False Northern/Western superiority/inferiority narratives, which continue to proliferate in

spite of the historical evidence, have made no small contribution to the contempt many peoples in
the South appear to feel towards their indigenous culture. As late as 1978, a crop scientist from the
North engaged in rice development research at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture
(IITA) in Nigeria had this to say about African rice: "The most notable characteristics of rice
growing in Africa are its apparent newness and its primitive state. This generally primitive
culture extends to most food crops in tropical Africa and thus it is not due to the newness of
rice in Africa but rather to the character of peasant agriculture itself.....Indigenous rice
cultivation in these areas was primitive and stagnant." (I. Buddenhagen Rice Ecosystems in
Africa, in Buddenhagen & Persley (eds), Rice in Africa, 1978, pp.46-47).

The historical record invalidates that confident assertion re both the alleged "primitive"
nature and the "newness" of rice cultivation in Africa, The indigenous West African rice species,
Oryza glaberrima was domesticated in the Senegambian region. Its cultivation is at least 3000 years
old and, indeed, there is some evidence that it may even be 7,000 years old. The techniques of
traditional Senegambian rice farming have attracted high praise from various Northern experts, one
of whom, Judith Carney, has this to say about it: "The sophistication of indigenous soil and
water management principles in Senegambian rice cultivation finds its most elaborate
expression in the rainfed-marine ecosystem, where zones inundated by the sea are
transformed into polders. Located along the coastal estuaries to the south of the Gambia, rice
production is attuned to a precise knowledge of soils, marine tides and techniques to reclaim
land from the sea. Cultivation necessitates the manipulation and regulation of several types of
water regimes that enable cropping in zones of year-round saltwater......The first Portuguese
to reach the Senegambian littoral in 1444 marvelled at the human ingenuity that had crafted
this food production system - just as do those who study its operation more than five hundred
years later." (Indigenous Soil and Water Management in Senegambian Rice Farming Systems,
Agriculture and Human Values, Vol.VIII, 1991, pp.37-38.)

Successful promotion, consumption, and development of traditional foods would have many
spill-over benefits for countries in the South. The resulting reduction in levels of undernutrition and
famine as well as the consequent increase in food supplies, especially of such highly nutritious
foods as quinoa and teff, would have a beneficial effect on rural health, educational capacity and
potential, and labour productivity. Peasant farming, the principal activity of rural populations in the

South, in which food production plays an important part, would be given a tremendous boost. The
entire rural sector would be revitalized, thus helping reduce both rural poverty and rural-urban
migration flows which aggravate the already serious social problems that afflict most urban centers
in the South. Amaryta Sen, the 1998 Nobel Laureate, has written powerfully about the politically
disempowering effect of poverty. The political and economic empowerment which would result
from rural development stimulated by the promotion and development of traditional foods would be
the least measurable but, doubtlessly, the most important, consequence of such development.

A national policy of promoting traditional foods could thus set off a chain reaction which
could revitalize the entire economy of a developing country with a large traditional sector. It is such
chain reactions that national development efforts in the South should aim at promoting, not just
separate, self-contained, externally-formulated programmes and projects destined for a passive,
benecificiary population. Development through the promotion of traditional foods was exactly the
path followed by Japan during the first phase of its industrialization in which it built its industrial
economy on the manufacture of local products such as cotton and silk, but also on the processing of
traditional food staples such as sake, miso, and soy sauce. Unlike silk manufacture, Japanese
agroindustry based on those traditional foods was immune from either competition or imitation by
the West. The processing of traditional foods accounted for forty per cent of Japans economic
growth between 1877 and 1900, whereas textile manufacture represented only thirty-five per cent.
(Ryoshin Minami, The Economic Development of Japan: A Quantitative Study, 1994.)

French speaking Caribbeans, including the elites, consume much local food and take great
pride in their local cuisine. The majority of restaurants in Martinique and Guadeloupe either serve
local food exclusively or with a choice of dishes from other cuisines. When the middle classes
lunch or dine out, they go just as often to a local-food restaurant as to one offering Northern cuisine.
Moreover, local food restaurants in those two islands are well frequented by Northern tourists who
appear to appreciate the local cuisine very much. It demonstrates that foreigners will appreciate a
people's indigenous culture if the latter value, and manifest their appreciation, for it, and they will
show contempt for it if that is the attitude the locals adopt to their indigenous culture.

Many "tourist" hotels in countries of the South tend to serve their foreign clients only
foreign foods, thereby depriving local farmers of an important potential market for their produce
and further devaluing the traditional in favour of the modern - terms which are often used
interchangeably with local and foreign. The only fish served in the restaurants of Togo's best

hotel, Hotel Benin, in the years following that country's independence, was imported by air every
day from France, although the hotel was situated less than 100 metres inland from the Atlantic
ocean, in full view of the bountiful daily catch of local fish by Togolese fishermen. What is most
striking about the French-speaking Caribbean is that "tourist" hotels in both islands feature local
dishes as staple items on their restaurant menus, in stark contrast to the English-speaking Caribbean
where they tend, at most, to set aside one evening a week for Caribbean cuisine. The population of
the two French-speaking island-countries also appear to be less seduced by the dubious culinary
merits of American fast foods. That is a salutary example for the English-speaking Caribbean,
where American fast food outlets far outnumber the handful of local restaurants that exist.

The spill-over effects, for the English-speaking Caribbean, of placing greater value on their
local foods are a valorization of the peasant farmers who produce them, and their farming activities,
the image of which still suffers from past slavery and indentureship. Such revalorization would
improve the living standards of the peasant farming community through increased demand for their
produce for local and tourist consumption. It would also make peasant farmers in the Caricom
region feel a greater involvement in their country's development by the contribution their produce
would make, as well as a greater sense of appreciation by the national community. Geoffrey
Hartman observed that: The function of individual cultures remain the same throughout
history: to convert longing into belonging. (The Fateful Question of Culture, p.180, 1992). The
consequent feelings, on the part of peasant farmers, of both belonging and inclusion should make
for increased national solidarity, thus contributing to the building of a genuinely inclusive society.

The "lowly" cod fish (salt fish) is Portugal's "national" food, for which the Portuguese have
developed more than three hundred recipes. Efforts should be made, at the national and regional
levels, to encourage experimenting with different ways of cooking Caribbean foods, which would
be yet another opportunity for Caribbean peoples to stimulate cultural creativity, one that every
adult in the society could seize whatever the individual's level of education. The stimulation of any
form of creativity is beneficial to the society as a whole and to its development. A type of "nouvelle
cuisine" could, perhaps be created in the Caribbean, which would be based on traditional foods and
recipes but conceived and presented in new, imaginative ways that could be attractive to both locals
and foreign tourists. In the latter respect, a cross fertilization of the cuisines of different ethnic
groups in the Caribbean could be attempted, which would explore new blends of flavours and
combinations of ingredients by enlarging the boundaries of hitherto accepted culinary experiences
and possibilities.

Competitions could be held, at the national and regional level, for different categories of
local cuisine recipes e.g. "most imaginative", "most creative", "most attractive presentation", "the
tastiest", etc., which could spur the development of an inventive and genuinely regional Caribbean
cuisine that might, in time, come to rival the world famous cuisines, much like the way West Indian
cricket came not only to rival but also surpass the best cricketing nations in the world. Caribbean
dishes should become staple items on the menus of the region's airlines, which should extend their
menus to include dishes from other Caribbean countries. Caribbean cuisine should also be served,
cocktail style (yet another opportunity to experiment with different ways of serving it), at National
Day receptions at home and at embassies abroad.

Because of its culturally diverse heritage, the Caribbean would have a decided advantage in
developing new, hitherto unimagined culinary creations, over countries with more culturally-
homogenous societies which must perforce go outside of their culture for different culinary
experiences that could inspire and stimulate their culinary imagination. French "nouvelle cuisine",
which was the most significant development in French cuisine in the 20th century, was inspired by
the encounter of French chefs, accompanying France's national team to the Tokyo Olympics in
1960, with Japanese cuisine the latter's artistic presentation, its imaginative juxtaposition of foods
of different colours and textures, its eschewal of heavy sauces, its great reliance on fresh foods
lightly cooked, its less gargantuan portions. Those Japanese culinary characteristics subsequently
came to define French "nouvelle cuisine", without French cuisine becoming less "French" or
without its legendary reputation being impaired.

The region's food scientists and technologists should be encouraged, and funded, to explore
ways of canning and packaging Caribbean dishes for the world market. Local artists and designers
could be commissioned to design attractive packaging for such foods, which would not only
provide an opportunity to showcase Caribbean artistic and design skills but would also stimulate
creative activity with an industrial potential. The activities suggested in this and the two preceding
paragraphs would go far in helping to construct, reinforce, and reaffirm Caribbean cultural identity.