Scientist came in boats; in huge ones and small ones. They came with their science and their religion. They came with their plants and flowers…none like any we had seen here before. They came with their schools and being the curious mortals we are, we took it all in. But to create space is to get rid of what is because what is old was always replaced by the new. At least that’s what they said; the transcendent strangers that came and owned. We believe them and in them so we dressed and spoke like them then we ate like them. Then we became them and life was never the same again.
We as a culture have long believed in their science and pharma medicine, no questions asked. That their hospitals, facilities and doctors are better. At least I know it is so in the medical spheres of science. As a consequence, most scientific data on diet and medical nutrition therapy is based on the Westernized diet and the data on their populous.
But Africa has had another kind of science. It had other tastes and flavours; colourful and aromatic, spicy and woody. This knowledge was passed down generationally from clan to clan, tribe to tribe. We had our medicine men and women. The Indian culture too had their own. As did the Chinese and other oriental cultures. Each of these understood the gifts in the plants and the herbs, in fruits and the sap from trees native to their geographical areas. Sometimes they met and shared these healing and restorative secrets while they traded or warred against each other. Their cuisine was their own, dictated by the seed their weather and environment allowed to thrive.
All these stood the test of time until a few centuries ago when science – the Western – like wildfire spread momentously fast. And caught on, it did. We adopted lettuce and cucumbers into staples. Butter and cheeses. Even took on their sausages and frying everything. As we had cassava and yams. We had sweet potatoes and honey. We had mangoes and oranges and coconuts. Tamarind and baobab too. Turmeric and black pepper. And peppers to add spice. Teas from ginger and coffee drinks. I could talk all day about how this westernization has influenced our diet and its effects on our health so I’ll try and keep it brief and try as best as I can to keep my biases to myself.
Traditional African Diet Vs Science
The traditional African diet might yet prove to be one of the least understood sciences in the field of nutrition. We are yet to fully explore the benefits and the downsides that hide in our cultural foods. I remember it being mentioned in a lesson that milk in porridge is a no no, yet all the homes I had been to – including mine – cooked porridge with milk; lots of it if you were lucky. When science and culture clash, one loses to the other and the loser disappears into oblivion. But what if we kept what serves us from both sides. We have greenhouses to grow ‘kundes’ and basil and access to water for irrigation. We have technology that allows us to harness wind energy. What if we let go of the bits that do not fit and adopt the bits that fit snugly?
We now know that the nutrients we consume contribute to the physical – muscle and bones – , the endocrine – hormones, the sensory – nerves . It has DNA altering capabilities what we put inside ourselves as in the case of cancers. As we have adapted the western, we have slowly forgotten our own. So greens like ‘mrenda’, ‘saga’,‘malenge’ leaves and the ‘mukimo’ ones are less frequenting pieces in our plates. We accepted only cow milk and have not fully explored the use of goat milk as an option and its nutrition implication.
Quite recently, I got a book on the different foods from the all walks and flavours from the furthest bits of Kenya. Interesting sample of dishes. Maybe we can now look further inward and not only do Kenya for Kenyans in tourism and music but also in our home-grown foods and spices.
Chiropractic & Physiotherapy Health Centre