When I found out I was heading to Kenya to intern as a nutritionist, one of my first reactions was that I was excited to try traditional Kenyan cuisine. My favourite part of being in a new place is being exposed to new foods, and hopefully coming home with new recipes and techniques that I can attempt to mimic at home. More important than that though, is seeing the values cultures different from my own place on the production, preparation, and serving of food.
Now that I am finally in Kenya, I’m beginning to notice the significance food has in Kenyan culture. In Kenya, an estimated 1.5 million people are food insecure, meaning they do not have access to enough safe, nutritious food at various times throughout the year. In the rural areas, where jobs are hard to come by and thus household income is often very low, the land becomes all the more important in providing food for families.
My fellow intern and I, Laura, were lucky enough to spend a day visiting several farms around the town of Gilgil, and it was impossible not to notice the pride with which people felt for the food they produced. At one farm, where we admired three large greenhouses teeming with tomatoes, we were gifted two massive cauliflowers. Another farmer was kind (and patient!) enough to teach us to milk one of his goats. The significance of agriculture in rural Kenya, and the importance placed on what has been grown on the land was very evident.
It is also clear that the growing and preparation of food is a family affair. Laura and I have been spending our Saturdays helping with a children’s program that aims to teach kids life skills and encourage cooperation with each other. This week, we prepared a traditional meal of ugali (a thick, cornmeal porridge) and sukuma wiki (fried greens) with 30 children aged six to twelve. While my job was to supervise and help with preparation, it quickly became obvious that most of the children were more adept at chopping vegetables than I was. For me, it was very inspiring to see not only how much some of the children knew about cooking, but also how much they enjoyed preparing the food with each other.
Finally, it has also become apparent quite quickly that food is used as a means of honouring guests and those you love. Everywhere Laura and I go, people want to feed us, which most commonly involves a large portion of rice with potatoes, beans, or maize. This means I spend a significant portion of my time with an exceedingly full stomach. For instance, our driver, James, took us home for lunch, while many of our coworkers and new acquaintances have invited us over for supper. It is impossible not to feel humbled and in awe of the kindness Laura and I have experienced since our arrival.
Given that I have only been in Kenya for two weeks into my six month stay, I know that I have much more to learn the place of food in Kenyan culture. I look forward to the many more experiences to come.