Decolonising our diets is not about making a political statement, it’s about getting back to the basics of what food our land provides for us naturally, for the benefit of health.
What do we mean by “decolonising food”?
Writer, historian and a native of the North American Indian tribe, the Choctaws, Devon Abbott Mihesua, first came up with the term “decolonise your diet” in 2005 in an attempt to bring awareness to various health problems of indigenous people in the United States.
In our context, decolonising our diets refers to a food movement to reclaim our traditional diet through consuming indigenous or ancestral foods of Southern Africa. This means going all the way back to a pre-colonial era and examining the way food was grown and cooked, and the cultural influences on food that stem from local communities. Pre-colonialism, indigenous, traditional diets were mainly plant-based diets (not to be confused with vegetarian or vegan), yet today our African diet is now characterised by cheap, convenient, processed foods loaded with salt, sugar and fats – a vast industrial system that has its roots in the west.
A decolonised diet, therefore, is about reclaiming culture and health through the consumption of indigenous or ancestral foods – foods that our bodies were adapted for, and food that was readily available and abundant in nature. Abundance Wholesome Foods is an advocate for access to healthy, nutrient-rich foods grown ethically. It is the connection to the land, nature and companionship via the small-scale farmer that can provide pathways back to a healthy nation. It is also about being careful with our planet and accepting the abundance of the food it produces in an indigenous context.
Most rural communities where the oldest living people are found, from Limpopo to Japan, will attest to the benefits of backyard organic crops that have been grown and cultivated for thousands of years in the area.
Why should we decolonise our food?
Simple: To reclaim our health. With the rise of lifestyle diseases in South Africa, the addition of nutrient-rich indigenous foods into our diets would be a step toward reclaiming our health.
The Division of Human Nutrition at Stellenbosch University believes that “indigenous foods can contribute to food security, the eradication of hunger and poverty, as well as the prevention of diseases in Africa”. Professor Xikombiso Mbhenyane at the university further notes that “The diversity of indigenous crops has the potential to augment the nutrient composition of family diets and may contribute to household food security and the alleviation of hidden hunger, which is a result of a lack of dietary diversity, usually linked to poor consumption of fruit and vegetables in general.”
Research shows that the current food system is failing, and the food value chain is captured – from seedlings to farm fields to factory to supermarkets – by powerful multinational corporations. We need to take back our power for the sake of our health and our land.
How are people affected by a “colonial” diet?
Both the affluent and the poor are affected. The rich, through advertising, are exposed to the “convenience” of supermarket shopping, where long aisles packed with cereal boxes and GMO and processed foods lure them into making unhealthy choices about the food they consume. Meanwhile the poor, who have limited access to healthy foods because of cost and locality, are lured into buying cheap unhealthy foods that are stripped of nutritional value. This creates a massive toll on the public health system as our nation becomes more and more sick.
Of course as a direct impact of poor health, we find less productivity, less income and a poor quality of life, which all adds to a social and economic development burden.
What can we do to change this?
Multinational food corporations in pursuit of profits are at the root of the problem, and these profits come at the expense of the nation’s health. The government, food corporations and lobbyists are all complicit. Government needs to better regulate the food industry towards safeguarding consumers from toxic foods, and food companies and lobbyists must be held accountable if they promise to practise ethical business.
The Government is further complicit by pushing for job creation in the agricultural sector while turning a blind eye to proven research on the negative impact of the agro-chemical industry’s influence on crops and – by extension – the health of its citizens and the environment (more on this topic soon!).
The bottom line? Stay woke, stay educated, stay aware. Know what you are consuming and why it’s on the store shelf. Know where your food comes from and what’s in it. With so much information at our fingertips it is easy to uncover the rot that is happening in the food industry on all levels, so we encourage you to read as much as you can. Then there’s the fun and easy part – start consuming more organic indigenous crops! We’ve written a whole article about the benefits and the types of foods that you should be looking out for, so click to read more.
PS. Please comment below if you’re a regular consumer of indigenous foods or if you grow your own. How does it benefit your life?