“Every day it’s tuo zaafi”: considering food preference in a food insecure region of Ghana

Abstract

This study takes the role of food preference in food insecurity analysis seriously. Guided by feminist political ecology, I do so by underscoring bodily relationships to tuo zaafi a cereal based porridge upheld as a culturally important meal across semi-arid West Africa. Drawing from 12 months of mixed methods fieldwork in Upper West Ghana, I look at perceptions of this salient meal as well as rates of consumption of it to uncover how food preference features in food insecurity. I use the refrain routinely evoked by my interlocutors during the height of the food insecure season—“Every day it’s tuo zaafi” as an anchoring datum point, an affectively effective statement. In this examination, I argue that when effectively acknowledged and assessed, food preference is a facet of food security that helps to not only identify hunger, but also articulate the experience with it. This articulation is important because it provides a necessarily broader perspective on the relationship between culture, food and health that challenge neo-liberal hued solutions to hunger.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Though more recent definitions exist, this 1996 definition remains a foundation for future iterations: “Food security, at the individual, household, national, regional and global levels [is achieved] when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutrition food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.” (Pottier 1999, p. 13).

  2. 2.

    Located in the semi-arid northern interior of the country, the Upper West is longitudinally food insecure (Annegers 1973; Destombes 2006; Hesselberg and Yaro 2006; Hunter 1967; Nyantakyi Frimpong and Bezner Kerr 2015; Quaye 2008; WFP 2009).

  3. 3.

    After my team and I orally relayed intent and purpose of the study, all study participants orally consented to participate.

  4. 4.

    A sentiment that other researchers have also documented as occurring with other grain based porridges consumed on the continent (Conrad 2014; Ohna et al. 2012; Noack and Pouw 2015).

  5. 5.

    Responses to formal questioning in May 2014 about why certain foods are favorites.

  6. 6.

    In this interviewing technique, women I asked women to relay what kind of TZ they would prepare if they wanted to make a social impression and what kind of TZ they would prepare if they wanted sense of bodily satisfaction.

  7. 7.

    The manifestation of prestige within the preparer, rather than only within the consumer is the objective. My teammates insisted on preparing this most prestigious variety of TZ for my family when they visited Ghana, even though they were aware that my family had no familiarity with TZ as a meal and did not know that the light and fluffy TZ served was necessarily highly esteemed.

  8. 8.

    Here, bodily satisfaction refers to how people relate to the way the food sits in and is processed by the body. The interest in this question is in terms of immediate sense of satiation rather than long-term perceptions of health.

  9. 9.

    To account for the gap between January and March in this dietary recall surveying, I rely on knowledge of the economic context to suggest that in these 3 months, levels of food insecurity are likely on the rise (as are TZ meals) given that produce from the harvests in September are already starting to dwindle (Ham 2016).

  10. 10.

    This is an experience similar to that relayed by Finnis (2008) in their research on diet and dietary change in India.

  11. 11.

    Feed the Future, designed and implemented by the USAID is one such intervention and one parallels the objectives of the even larger initiative by the G8, The New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition. The underlying mechanisms of Feed the Future entail the scaling up of the production of maize, rice and soy in northern Ghana through public–private partnerships that support the development of these commodity chains.

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Acknowledgements

This research (University of Georgia IRB 00000143) was supported by the Womens Empowerment in Agriculture Index Fellowship administered by the International Food Policy Research Institute; a U.S. Borlaug Fellows Graduate Research Grant (#1021RR104338); and a Lemelson Pre-Dissertation Award from the Society for Psychological Anthropology. The author extends appreciation to the communities that hosted this research, her teammates in data collection, as well as to Kristin VanderMolen for comments on an earlier draft. Substantial feedback from three anonymous reviewers has been quite helpful for sharpening the thinking that shapes these results into a collectively telling story

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Correspondence to Jessica R. Ham.

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Ham, J.R. “Every day it’s tuo zaafi”: considering food preference in a food insecure region of Ghana. Agric Hum Values 37, 907–917 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10460-020-10027-7

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Keywords

  • Food insecurity
  • Food preference
  • Tuo zaafi
  • Upper West Ghana
  • Feminist political ecology