47 kinds of greens

Ironically, this article was written by the mother of one of my very-widely-traveled friends. I especially love the string of starchy verbs in the third paragraph.

There’s a profound yet simple proverb about ethnocentrism in many African societies (e.g., the Baganda, Akamba, Kikuyu, Bemba, Haya, Igbo, and Yoruba). Translated, it means “The one who has not traveled widely thinks his/her mother is the best cook.

This proverb often comes to mind when I hear Americans talking about African food, especially Sub-Saharan African food, in a patronizing, superior way, and also lumping a whole continent together in a way they would never dream of doing for other global locations. A missionary in Ghana once sniffed and said to me disparagingly “They eat grass,” when referring to the greens cooked in stews. In Pennsylvania we carefully distinguish among varieties of apples (Rome, Gala, Granny Smith, Red or Golden Delicious, Macintosh, Pink Lady, Ginger Gold, Braeburn, Crispin, Cameo, etc., etc.). In Ghana that discrimination applies to greens, of which it’s documented that people savor 47 different kinds. Just because our palates haven’t been trained to detect the textures, degrees of bitterness, saltiness, etc. doesn’t mean that the food is inferior.

Similarly, people often say that Africans eat some kind of starch, but they lump them all together, without detecting the differences among, say, types of yams, rice, plantains, millets, sorghum, corn, sweet potatoes, potatoes, cassava, taro (cocoyams), even wheat, along with very different methods of preparation (fermented, unfermented, pounded, dried, fresh, boiled, fried, roasted, steamed, stirred, etc.).


from “Question 4: Isn’t African food too…?,” by Fran Osseo-Asare, BetumiBlog, 22 April 2009

Originally published at culture-making.com.

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