Food and Culture.

BY: John ian Mutiro

Food plays a very important part of our lives. The most important role of food is that it gives our bodies the energy and nutrients that it requires to sustain us throughout our everyday lives. That is why  a balanced diet is recommended by scientists so as to ensure that you receive the nutrients that your body needs to function properly.

However, food plays another important role. I will illustrate first. For example, when a visitor visits your house, especially in Kenyan households, we are quick to offer them tea, coffee, bananas. bread or cook for them. Food then also becomes important for social events. In our house, for example, while eating dinner , we switch off any electrical entertainment devices and use the time to bond. I remember as a child, we would have a special breakfast on Saturday to catch up on the week’s events. This remain to be one of my favourite memories. Food, even cooking, is a very social affair and may be cultural as well.  I grew up in a Kikuyu household and my mother was very dutiful in teaching us how to prepare “mukimo” otherwise called “irio” which is one of our traditional foods. I was always told of stories of how chapatis were eaten on special days like Christmas and how there was only one pan in the village that would be rotated to the villagers to prepare their chapatis. Is there an activity that can bond a community more than that?

In my tribe there is a saying “Mwana mwega ni ndaa” loosely translated to mean that a good child is one who has an appetite. It is very clear that food was an important part of the culture and it made its way into popular wise sayings of many cultures.

Many cultures, African or otherwise have their signature cultural foods and this has seen certain food classified as cuisine for a different country. Noodles for example are classified as Chinese cuisine. The West African countries especially show how strongly food is a part of culture. When food such as jollof rice, asaro, efokore, ekuru and aro are mentioned one would instantly know that the food is typically eaten in Nigeria.

One can only imagine the special bond that a subsistence farmer has to food. This was the case in the pre-colonial times when African societies grew particular food for their subsistence that featured in their cooking. The whole process of bringing of food to the table from growing it or fishing or gathering, tending the crops, harvesting, cooking and serving was done within the community. 

Culture also affected the way that food was cooked with different instruments being used for different foods. There were special pots for preparing certain types of food. This can be seen even in the preparation of bread by a tandoor in Asian countries or the big pestle and mortar for preparing cassava flour in Western African countries.

It is no wonder that food played an important role in religion even then. In the olden times, food would be poured to the ground as a sign of respect to the ancestors. Amongst the sacrifices offered to God, harvest produce was one of the most important. A sign of respect to the priests in that time involved inviting them for a meal when they popped into your house to deliver a message.

In our generation, we can keep our culture alive by learning of the native food of our communities, knowing how to cook them and teaching them to the generations that will follow us.

Leave a comment