Food Systems

Last week was the Islamic celebration of Tobaski! Like most holidays around the world, it has religious origins but ends up being mostly about food and hanging out with friends and family. If you can afford it, you buy and slaughter a ram for the week long celebration. Lots of rams met their demise that day, but that meant lots of lunches for me.

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This isn’t our ram, this is a goat from a few weeks ago. All of my ram pictures are a little too bloody to be blog appropriate.

One thing that struck me during the meal preparations was how different my food acquisition is here from the States. Just one year ago, I was a frequent McDonalds customer and indulged a little too much in All Day Breakfast, amongst other wonders. I had absolutely no idea where the food came from or how it was prepared or even if it was what the advertisement said it was. All I know is that it tasted good and was cheap.

As I sat watching the multiple lunches being made, I realized I know exactly where each part of each meal comes from here. We eat a lot of rice and koos, which we are now growing by the river (rice fields) and at the farm (koos fields). Bread is baked up the street in a big brick oven. The meat is from chickens, goats, or rams that we raise and kill – or buy from our neighbors. The vegetables are from the vegetable gardens down the road, sold in town or at the big weekly market. There are some exceptions – like the oil and salt and sugar we consume too much of here. The coffee and tea packets are also imported from somewhere, as are the packets of cookies and candy sold at the shops.

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Does that matter? I mean, who cares if we raised the chickens here or if McDonalds raised the chickens somewhere in Idaho? For my Gambian family and our neighbors, it definitely matters. They work everyday in the gardens or on the farms or raising chickens and goats to feed their family and to sell in the market. Vegetable gardens and farms help them buy clothes and build their houses and help keep their children healthy.

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But does it matter in the States? I mean, how much of what you ate today came from somewhere in your area, or your state, or even your country? Do you know? I certainly didn’t know when I was ordering 3 bacon, egg and cheese biscuits and a caramel frappe (Side note: I would do a lot of things to eat those right now).

As non-communicable diseases rise worldwide, nutrition is an important part of the solution.ย  Locally produced and fresh fruits, vegetables, grains and meats are part of that nutritional solution. Food has to be heavily processed and preserved to be sent from far away or overseas, decreasing nutritional value. Local farms and gardens contribute to local and world markets, help prevent climate change, and can be used to educate children about the importance of nutritious foods (especially if the local garden is in a school).

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After living here, I think it does matter. Growing food or just knowing where food comes from is important – we literally need it to survive. After my time here in The Gambia is over (and after I consume 3 bacon, egg and cheese biscuits and a caramel frappe), I’ll try to start thinking more about where my food comes from.

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