For Valentine's Day, a subject close to my heart. Food systems! Yay!
In America, most people get their food from the supermarket. This is changing in some places, as people become more concerned where their food comes from, and discover the joys of CSAs, farmers’ markets, and home production. But, for the most part, we buy our food at the supermarket, and few of us are responsible for producing the food that we eat.
Not so in Senegal. Here, food production and distribution is a much more decentralized, democratic, and civic activity. I’ve taken to calling it an in-your-face food system because food is everywhere. It wanders the street, it’s on top of peoples’ heads, in the backs of their cars, in their backyards/frontyards/sideyards, vacant lots, extra spots of land at businesses, etc, etc, etc. In general, average citizens shoulder much of the responsibility of keeping themselves fed.
I’m going to hold off on critiquing food systems with this post. I’ve actually got another post in the works that does that. But, what I want to state clearly is that, generally, I think that people in the US think of African food systems (when/if they think of Africa at all) as backwards, inefficient, impoverished, and unproductive. This is not my experience here. Very often, if people are not eating here, it is because they don’t have money to buy food, not because there is no food. Those lines sometimes get blurred, which has allowed the corporate agri-food companies to wield an inordinate amount of influence over how agricultural development is conducted, as well as to unduly influence terms of global trade.
Okay…so, now onto some pictures of the food system here in M’bour.
From my doorstep, here are some of the things I can buy.
The fish and langouste were caught that day, the eggs were probably laid within the last 24 hours. The veggies were grown in close proximity to town, so didn't have to travel thousands of miles to get to my kitchen, thus wasting inordinate amounts of energy. I can also get many different kinds of fruit, and, believe it or not, several varieties of goat cheese, made from the milk of goats here in town. None of it is packaged and processed, and all of it is fresh.
Fresh fish and meat from chickens, pigs, goats, sheep and cattle, slaughtered daily, is widely available at the local markets:
But, people commonly kill their own meat at their houses, too.
While we're at it, I might as well show you the picture of the chicken that I killed. Okay, yes, I've only killed one chicken in my life, but at least I know I can do it.
Food wanders the streets (this next one is actually from my trip last year to a different town in Senegal):
and is produced in small, in-between spaces:
Just a few days ago, one of the farmers in my study filled my backpack with eggplant and hot pepper produced on a relatively small space next to her house. Yum.
This next one is in Dakar, the capital city of Senegal:
Of course, much food is also produced on large, rural tracts of land. This next one is of rice fields in the southern part of Senegal:
As I said, I won't get into the implications too deeply here. What is important to realize is that just because the food system is different, and does not resemble a 'modern' system, does not mean it is unproductive.