SOCIO-CULTURAL DIMENSIONS OF HEALTH
FOOD ANYWHERE IS FOOD EVERYWHERE
AKPLAGAH WINFRED KWABLA (10396290)
Food is any substance or material mainly from plant or animal sources that contains essential
nutrients and is eaten or ingested and assimilated by living organisms to provide energy, support
growth, development and maintenance of the body. Food grows on farms, comes from the sea or
water sources, is gathered from the forest, sold in the market, and appears on our tables at
mealtimes. Examples are cattle, goats, camel, horses, dogs, poultry, crabs, lobsters, frogs,
snakes, yam, cassava, maize, millet, wheat, potatoes, coconuts, groundnuts, beans, etc just to
mention a few.
According to Foster and Anderson, food is not simply an organic product with biochemical
qualities that may be utilized by living organisms to sustain life; rather, food is both the
substance and symbol of social life, a means by which people communicate with each other, and,
an embodiment of that communication itself (Foster & Anderson, 1978, p. 265).
According to the Wikipedia, food is any substance consumed to provide nutritional support for
the body. It is usually of plant or animal origin, and contains essential nutrients, such as
carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, or minerals. The substance is ingested by an organism
and assimilated by the organism's cells in an effort to produce energy, maintain life, or stimulate
The Businessdictionary.com defined food as edible or potable substance (usually of animal or
plant origin), consisting of nourishing and nutritive components such as carbohydrates, fats,
proteins, essential mineral and vitamins, which (when ingested and assimilated through
digestion) sustains life, generates energy, and provides growth, maintenance, and health of the
For survival or nutritional needs, people everywhere could eat the same food, to be measured
only in calories, fats, carbohydrates, proteins, and vitamins. Most of the substances that are
mostly used as food to provide the necessary nutrients may be available mostly everywhere in
the world with slightly varying varieties. For example, there are different breeds of animals that
are used as food and there are different species of plants that are used as food. That is there are
local or exotic plants and animals and their products that are used as food and these can be found
in most part of the world.
In view of these availability of these food substances everywhere in the world, one may be
tempted to say that food anywhere is food everywhere but people of different backgrounds eat
very differently. The basic materials from which food is prepared; the ways in which it is
preserved, cut up, cooked; the amount and variety at each meal; the tastes that are liked and
disliked; the customs of serving food; the utensils; the beliefs about the food's properties etc.
vary greatly. As stated by Appadurai and Rozin, food is not just a source of nutrition and oral
pleasure. It becomes an aesthetic experience, a mechanism of sharing, a center of celebration,
and sometimes a statement about one’s own ethnic, religious, and cultural identity (Appadurai
1981; Rozin 2010).
The old proverbs “Tell me what you eat and I will tell you who you are” (French) and “You are
what you eat” (German) point to the fact that people are defined to some extent by the kinds of
food they eat. For example, in Ghana, the traditional food of the Ewes of Volta region is Akple
(banku), the Gas and Fantes (people of Accra and Cape Coast) eat Kenkey or Donkuno, the
Akans or Ashantis eat fufu and Ampesi, and the people of northern Ghana eat Tuo-zafi. Other
Ghanaian traditional foods include yakayake, Akyeke, tubani, aprapransa and etor. In south
Africa, the Bantu speakers eat dishes of grain, meat, milk and vegetables, as well as fermented
grain and fermented milk products, while the Khoi-Khoi eat meat and milk, and the San hunt
wild animals and gather wild tubers and vegetables and the Khoisan eat roasted meat, and they
also dried meat for later use. In Nigeria, Iyan, Amala, Eba, fufu, and lafun is eaten in some parts
of the country.
Reasons why people eat differently
People who have the same culture share the same food habits, that is, they share the same group
of food variables. Peoples of different cultures share different groups of food variables. In other
words, different cultures have different food choices. People all over the world tend to regard
their own diet as sensible and the diets of other cultures as strange or weird. What is “weird” or
“tasteless” to one society is probably “delicious” to another. For example, the people of northern
China eat fried cockroaches for medicinal purposes. The cockroach, whose innards resemble
cottage cheese, has an earthy taste, with a slight twinge of ammonia. But the delicacy
(cockroach) has become popular in China not for their taste, but for their medicinal benefits
(NewsMum.com). According to the report, the cockroach is fried not once but twice in a wok of
smoking hot oil. Asian countries like China, Hong Kong, Thailand etc are well-known for the
kind of things they eat as food. Everything from insects, to frogs, to snakes, to apes, and to dog is
Also, in Philippines Baalut is a delicacy. It is basically a fertilized chicken or duck egg that is
buried in the ground for a few weeks, and served fresh. The eggs are incubated till the fetus
develops feathers and bones (KellyB 2011).
Food is also a cultural symbol. Cultural beliefs and practices regarding food vary from one
culture to another. Food that is liked most in one society is rigorously forbidden by another.
Some South African foods include crocodilian sirloin, fried caterpillars and evening ewe heads.
Some South Africans avoid these foods, while others do anything to get the food. Some cultures
brand animals as either edible or inedible. Most Americans would be repulsed by the thought of
eating insects and insect larvae, but many societies consider them to be delicacies. American
culture also distinguishes between pets, which are not eaten, and farm animals, such as chickens,
cows, and pigs, which can be eaten. In the United States, horses are considered pets and not used
for human consumption. Horsemeat is a regular part of the continental European diet. According
to Harris, the French, Belgians, Dutch, Germans, Italians, Poles, and other Europeans consume
significant quantities of horsemeat each year (Harris 1985).
All societies have symbolic classifications of certain objects or foods that are unclean, tabooed,
polluted, or dirty, as well as those that are clean, pure, medicinal or undefiled. Within the same
culture, the food habits are not at all necessarily homogeneous. Within the same general food
style, there are different manifestations of food variables of a smaller range, for different social
situations. People of different social classes or occupations eat differently. In East Africa food
varies from place to place. In the inland savannah, the traditional food of cattle-keeping peoples
is characteristic in that meat products are generally not present. Cattle, sheep and goats are
regarded as a form of currency and a store of wealth, and are not generally consumed as food. In
some areas, traditional peoples consume the milk and blood of cattle, but hardly ever eat the
Certain foods are also eaten for various occasions. People on festive occasions, in mourning eat
differently. For instance, kpokpoi is characteristic of the Homowo festival of the people of Accra
(Gas) of Ghana. Christians kill lamb during Easter while Muslims kill lamb or bull (cattle)
during Ramadan. Yam festivals are celebrated in some parts in Ghana to signify the beginning of
new yam seasons. During such festivals, yam is cooked in various dishes and eaten by the
people. Cassava festivals are also celebrated in Ghana where cassava dishes are prepared and
eaten. There are also some kinds of foods that is eaten during funerals of different group of
people and these differ from community to community.
Food habits are also shaped by environment, available ingredients, climate, and even factors like
class and income. For example, the typical Ghanaian staple foods in the southern part of Ghana
include cassava, maize and plantain. In the northern part, the main staple foods include millet
and sorghum. Yam, maize and beans are used across Ghana as staple foods. The Dutch eat potato
or chips, Chinese eat rice, noodles and fish and in Morocco, they often eat couscous and
mechoui. Mechoui is roasted lamb. Chips, baquette and French cheese is eaten in France as well.
Maize (corn) is the basis of ugali, the East African version of West Africa's fufu. Ugali is a
starch dish eaten with meats or stews. In Uganda, steamed, green bananas called matoke provide
the starch stuffing of many meals.
Different religious sects also have different eating regulations. Hindu’s do not eat beef and
Rastafarians do not eat meat or products from animals like eggs, milk, cheese and other dairy
products. Also the Traditional Ethiopian foods do not use pork or shellfish of any kind, as they
are forbidden in the Islamic, Jewish, and Ethiopian Orthodox Christian faiths. The Jewish people
have prohibitions against eating pork as well as Muslims. In some areas of the world, pigs are
prized as food; in other cultures, it is forbidden to eat pork based on their religious faiths. In
Ghana, some traditional believers are not permitted to eat certain types of food. Sometimes these
prohibitions can be permanent or temporal, that is certain foods are forbidden on some occasions
or during some seasons of the year.
Men and women, in various stages of their lives also eat differently. Different individuals have
different tastes. Some of these differences are ones of preference, but others may be prescribed
by society or culture. For example in certain parts of Northern Ghana, children are not allowed to
eat eggs because it is believed that when they eat eggs they will become ‘thieves’ in future.
Pregnant women are also given certain types of food in some parts of Ghana and other cultures
because they believe it will help then in labour or wad off some bad spirits that may harm the
unborn child or the mother. They are also not permitted to eat certain types of food. Vegetarians
also avoid meat, because they think it’s not fair to kill animals. They prefer to eat products from
animals like eggs, milk, cheese and other dairy products. Veganists too do not eat meat and
products from animals
Lastly, another factor why people eat differently is their health. Not everybody likes the same
food. Some people like some types of food and some others dislike them not because of their
religion, culture, taste or where they live but because of their health. Some people are allergic to
certain types of foods and if they eat those foods they might get ill or their skin can itch.
Though food is shaped by culture and different cultures have different foods, there are some
commonalities across different cultures and regions. For example, Fufu is eaten in most African
countries including Ghana, Nigeria, central and eastern African countries with varying degree of
ingredients used depending on the availability of the foodstuffs. While some use cassava,
plantain or cocoyam others use yam or maize or rice. Eba which is a staple food of the Nigerians
is also eaten in Ghana and some parts of the continent.
These days, due to globalization, most food of other regions and cultures can be found almost
everywhere. In Ghana, fufu or Tuo Zaafi is popular with many Ghanaians and it is eaten almost
everywhere across the country. There are also African foods in the European, American, and
Asian markets while there are also American hamburgers and European pizzas and Chinese
foods as well as the French food across Africa and the continent. There are restaurants in Ghana
offering continental dishes and there are same in other parts of the world offering local and
continental dishes. These are due to the fact that we are in a global world and people and their
culture can be found in most part of the world.
1. Adapted from Food in Chinese Culture: Anthropological and Historical Perspectives by
K.C. Chang (Yale University Press, 1977).
2. Cultural Anthropology: A Global Perspective, 8/e by Scupin
3. Different foods around the world by Kelly B
6. Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/