While sitting at this year’s Thanksgiving table I thought about how fortunate we were to have all that was in front of us and wondered what an African Thanksgiving table might look like. I imagined a table with some type of bird, surrounded by sweet potato, pumpkin, eggplant, cassava, cowpea, and sorghum dishes, garnished by marula, baobab, and passion fruit sauces.
Thanksgiving, in addition to marking the start of the holiday season, in the U.S. celebrates and commemorates the first harvest Pilgrims, along with the Native Americans they found, are said to have had in their New World. The foods that were and are still eaten today are those that are indigenous and naturally found in the area. They are nutritious and have continued to provide those in the Americas with food security.
Many African nations and families struggle with food and nutrition security. This is partly due to colonialism having altered agricultural practices on the continent—this included a focus on growing commodity crops and non-indigenous plants that did not easily grown on selected lands, at the expense of indigenous crops. Many of these practices continue today; cash-crop focused agri-businesses, practices that require high amounts of fertilizer and pesticides, and development aid have failed to address food and nutrition needs on the continent adequately.
Further, I have notice the tendency of some Africans to view the arrival of American-like fast food chains and processed junk foods as a sign of development and celebrate their presence. After all what young person doesn’t want to celebrate the ability to go out for pizza or have McDonald’s burgers and fries just like they do in the movies? Who does not want to relive their years abroad with the comfort foods they became accustomed to eating? Most importantly, how does all this impact hunger and malnutrition?
There is a need for leaders and development agencies that work on food and nutrition security to pay closer attention to the importance of indigenous food crops. Many are nutrient rich and thrive in their natural environment. Efforts that promote the growth and use of indigenous nutrient-rich crops, and spotlight African recipes that incorporate them, will go a long way in supporting food and nutrition security in the region.