As a dietitian, food is often top of mind whenever I travel somewhere new. I make a point of visiting grocery stores and markets to compare prices and check out the range and diversity of products. Uganda has a completely different food culture to Canada, specifically Northern Canada, where I was living prior to this internship.
These are some of my observations.
Cost of Food
Coming from Baffin Island, where store-bought food is either flown or sealifted in, to Kampala where Ugandans everywhere are growing food, you would expect there to be a bit of a cost difference. Here are a few food items where I could find data for all three regions.
* This is for the small, scrumptious finger bananas (the larger yellow bananas are cheaper by weight)
1,2: 2016 Nunavut Food Price Survey, Comparison of Nunavut & Canada CPI Food Price Basket Items,accessed from Nunavut Bureau of Statistics
3: The prices I was charged the other day, not representative whatsoever
While there is a dramatic difference in the price of food (you have to wonder just how much the farmer is getting for their harvest!), salaries and rent in Uganda are also less. For example, the median monthly salary for the average male is 132,000Ushs and 66,000Ushs for females (UBOS, 2011-2012). This is the equivalent of $47.85 and $23.92 respectively. Another major expense to factor into the cost of living in Uganda is education. While Universal Primary Education is now available, I’m told that public schools can have classes with as many as 200 children so anyone who is able, sends their children to a private school which can cost as much as $600 PER TRIMESTER. Many people can’t afford food prices to rise.
Quality and Quantity
The local food is simple, pretty carbohydrate heavy and delicious! It is mostly boiled or steamed. Breakfast for most people is often quite small, maybe a tea and chapatti when you get to the office. Lunch is a BIG meal which is I’m most productive in the morning. Dinner can be more of the same from lunch.
For lunch at my office, we pick our ‘sauce’ which is the main protein; you can have beans, cowpeas (mung beans), meat or fish in a broth, groundnut (peanut) sauce or pasted meat which I understand to be meat or fish mixed with groundnut sauce. Then you get to order ‘the food’ (everything else) and you can have any combination of rice, matoke (mashed plantain and quintessentially Ugandan), sweet potato, Irish potato, pumpkin, posho (a cornmeal mixture), cassava and greens. I’m sure I’m missing some sauce and food options, but this gives you a good idea.
I should also mention that Kampala has a great international food scene; so on days when I want to shake things up I can go out for a great Indian or Thai meal. I’ve really enjoyed the seemingly endless supply of fresh fruit, eating fried chicken and Rolexes from street vendors, and trying my hand at cooking over a charcoal stove (lots of practice still needed). Food is just one part of what makes exploring another country so fun, but as a dietitian it’s definitely the part I enjoy the most!
My standard lunch order (clockwise): beans with rice, sweet potato, greens, pumpkin (aka any type of squash), and ‘Irish’. This costs me $1.20.
Emily Murray is working as an Intern in Food & Nutrition with Food Rights Alliance in Kampala, Uganda.