The Local Food Movement in Kenya

The Local Food Movement in Kenya

Kibera kale

While the local food movement is growing in the U.S., Europe and even Japan (where Community Supported Agriculture – CSA – was invented), we don’t hear much about similar movements in southern regions of the world. Sometimes it seems like there’s a feeling that people in poor countries, and poor people especially, don’t have the time or the money to care about where their food comes from. Of course, this “sense” has led to the global reach of mass-produced, processed foods. But there are pockets of resistance, and also resurgence, of local food cultures. In fact, plenty. One that I heard about recently on the BBC was intriguing: fresh, organic vegetables being grown and marketed in Kenya’s, and perhaps Africa’s, largest slum: Kibera in Nairobi. And Kibera’s residents are willing to pay quite a lot of their small daily income for pesticide-free, fresh produce.

A key item of the harvest is kale, which 95% of Kenyans eat, says one of the urban farmers. An interesting aspect of the story was this. The BBC reporter told a woman buying her “Kibera kale” and other vegetables that most people in the West think she and people like her wouldn’t care about organic food — and that they’d lack the money to pay for it. In a genial tone, the woman repeated the statement back to the reporter as a question, and answered. “But we do,” she said, and went on to describe how she manages her household budget to make her purchases possible.

This struck me, even as I digested (sic) the news that mega fast food chain Burger King has a new set of commercials in which it takes its burgers to far corners of the world and records the reaction of people there who eat them. The campaign has, rightly, been criticized as an attempt at food hegemony, served up with a mocking tone: can you believe they haven’t tasted a burger? And can you imagine what it would be like to live all the way out here?! A good critique of Burger King’s venture by Derrick Z. Jackson ran recently on Common Dreams. I excerpt a few of its most trenchant paragraphs here:

In a bizarre parody of an actual documentary, Burger King sent a crew out to remote Hmong parts of Thailand, Inuit parts of Greenland, and a village in Romania where people have both never seen a hamburger nor ever heard of one through advertising. The narration starts, “The hamburger is a culinary culture and it’s actually an American phenomenon [as if we didn’t know this].”

The first part of the video involved plucking some villagers to come to a modern office in local and native dress to compare Burger King’s signature burger with a McDonald’s Big Mac. Villagers are shown fumbling with the burger, with a patronizing narrator saying, “It’s been very interesting to see their reaction to the hamburger because they’ve never seen such a foreign piece of food before and they didn’t even quite know how to pick it up and they didn’t know how to – from what end to eat. . . .It was really interesting. We were able to see these people’s first bite of a hamburger.”

Remarking on the villagers’ awkwardness in handling the burger, the narrator added: “It took them awhile to understand the dynamics of it and so that was fascinating to see because we take it for granted ’cause we live in America where hamburgers are consumed like a staple….”

The WHO, not surprisingly, says, “Initiatives by the food industry to reduce the fat, sugar, and salt content of processed foods . . . could accelerate health gains worldwide.”

But no, Burger King wants to colonize the farthest reaches with fat, sugar, and salt.

The irony was when the locals made the crew their native food in the video. The meal ladled out for them was smothered in vegetables. The crew yum-yummed “Nice,” “Wonderful,” “So good,” and even, “Insane.” That was the height of patronization given their mission. Burger King’s violation of the “Whopper Virgins” is an insane reenactment of the worst of American colonial history.