Jan 25, 2016
Food in Ghana
Food in Ghana
Climate and ecological conditions, for example, determine what food crops and livestock are practical to grow locally. Dietary patterns are also influenced by cultural and religious norms, and by a region's history of contact with foreign foodstuffs and cultures through trade, migration, and colonization. In the second half of the 20th century, Ghanaian food systems have been particularly transformed by urbanization and related changes in women's work and by foreign donations of food aid.
Now more than ever, diets vary across class, with the wealthy typically eating not only a greater quantity and variety of foods than the poor but also different foods. This essay discusses some of these variations in Ghanaian food systems, as well as broad patterns and historical trends. In Ghana, as in most of the world, most people structure their diets around a relatively small number of starchy or carbohydrate-rich foods. Grains such as millet, sorghum, rice, and maize (corn) and tubers such as yams and cassava (manioc), for example, form the central ingredient of the most common meals in Africa and provide the bulk of the daily caloric intake. These staple starches are traditionally accompanied by protein-rich legumes, such as peas, beans, or peanuts, and by smaller quantities of foods that add both flavor and nutrition, such as vegetables, oils, spices, and meat or fish. These latter foods are often referred to as relishes, condiments, or sauces. Anthropologist and food historian Sidney Mintz calls them "fringe" foods, to emphasize the centrality of the "core" starches. This "core-fringe-legume" pattern of food consumption predominates in Ghana, except in the grassland north, where milk and meat play more central roles.
Ghana's oldest staple starch crops vary across ecological zones. The major cereal grains—millet, sorghum, and maize—are all common in semi-arid regions. Millet and sorghum, both indigenous to Africa, predominate in the drier regions of northern Ghana. Millet can grow in areas where rainfall averages 275 to 400 mm (11 to 20 in) annually, while sorghum requires between 800 and 1000 mm (30 to 40 in) of rain annually. Maize, a New World crop first introduced by the Portuguese beginning in the late 15th century, is now one of the most widely cultivated food crops in Ghana. It can grow in a variety of conditions and be used in many ways, but it is less drought-resistant than either sorghum or millet.
Tubers such as cassava, yams, and sweet potatoes, and tree crops such as bananas and plantains (some tree crops are indigenous to Africa and some arrived centuries ago from Asia or the New World) are typically grown in the humid forest eco-zones of south and central Ghana. Cassava production in particular has increased in the 20th century, because while in the field it requires little tending, and it can keep for months underground before harvest. But cassava is low in protein, and in raw form some varieties are toxic.
Most rice in Ghana is grown under either lowland (also known as paddy) or upland conditions. Upland rice depends on rainfall, not irrigation, and thus grows only in wetter regions. In the rain forest zone of Western Region (in the Wassa and Aowin areas), upland rice is grown. Many rural development projects (e.g., the Dahwenya Project) in Ghana since the 1960s have centered on rice production, in part because in comparison to other crops, demand for rice has increased enormously in Ghanaian cities.
COMMON PREPARATIONS OF CORE FOODS
Compared to the highly varied and often quite elaborate preparations typical of fringe foods, the preparations of core starches are fairly simple. One very common dish made of millet, maize, or sorghum is a stiff porridge known by various names in different regions of Ghana. Once the grains have been ground into flour—a task women once did by hand but increasingly do in mills—they are mixed with cold water until a thin paste forms. Next the cook mixes in boiling water and stirs continuously until it thickens, then adds more flour until the consistency is so thick that the spoon stands straight up in the pot. Tubers and starchy tree crops are most commonly boiled, roasted, or fried. Cassava and yams, like boiled plantains, are frequently pounded into a thick, heavy paste called fufu (or futu), a popular albeit labor-intensive Ghanaian dish. Like porridge dishes, fufu is often eaten communally and by hand and is always accompanied by a soup or stew. Dried, grated cassava, known as gari, is a popular convenience food in Ghana, because it keeps well and can be easily reconstituted with boiling water.
Although fringe foods typically account for a smaller proportion of caloric intake than the core starches, they are by no means a peripheral part of the diet. Whether served as sauces, soups, spreads, or fillings, dishes made of vegetables, spices, and sometimes animal protein and fat add color, nutrition, and variety to the daily bowls of porridge or rice. These dishes vary both seasonally and regionally, depending in part on the ingredients available locally. For example, in Ghana, palm oil stew is a more common complement.
Many ingredients found in traditional Ghanaian fringe dishes reflect foreign influences. The tomato, for example, was brought from the New World by the Portuguese in the 16th century and is now cultivated and consumed throughout much of Ghana. In coastal Ghana, tomato-based fante fante sauce is served on rice and fish.
European influence on Ghanaian food habits prior to colonialism was generally limited to the introduction of new crops, such as maize and tomatoes. Colonization led to significant changes both in what foods Ghanaians produced and what foods they had available to purchase. It is important to note that dietary patterns were transformed not only by the introduction of new crops and imported goods, but also by changes in households' use of land, labor, and income. For example, the introduction of cocoa has transformed the dietary patterns of the rain forest zones of coastal Ghana.
Colonial-era taxes, for example, often forced peasant households to shift at least some of their land away from food crops over to export crops, such as cotton, coffee, and cocoa, which were typically overseen by male household heads. Taxation and compulsory labor service also forced rural men and sometimes women to leave their farms for work on plantations, in mines, and on road and railway projects. In many areas women had to assume greater responsibility for food production, and often on more limited land. In one common adaptation to these constraints, women switched from labor-intensive crops such as yams to ones requiring less weeding and other upkeep, such as cassava. In general, as rural households devoted more of their resources to income-earning endeavors, they also began to purchase a larger proportion of their food supplies.
Compared to the efforts the colonial administration made to develop export crop production in Ghana, most of the time the colonial administration paid relatively little attention to staple-food crop production. During the First and Second World Wars, however, some colonies made cultivation of certain crops compulsory in order to assure food supplies for the military bases. In Ghana at Komenda during the Second World War, for example, peasants were forced to grow maize, sweet potatoes and peanuts to supply to the air force station that was established there. This former air force station now houses the Komenda College of Education.
Imported foods intended for European settlers also made their way into the Ghanaian diet, as did "European" foods manufactured in Africa. Initially only a small minority of Ghanaians, mostly the educated urban elite, partook of foreign and costly foods such as bread, pasta, margarine, and soft drinks. In some circles the ability to buy and serve European cuisine became a marker of status, like Western-style clothing. Certain foods, however, eventually became a part of the working-class diet. Bread from wheat has not only become a working-class diet, the name for it, paano in Ghana is derived from Portuguese. Men who migrated to urban areas in search of wage labor were among the earliest regular consumers of goods like bread and tea, partly because they were convenient. Wheat bread served with margarine or butter and tea (coffee and hot chocolate are also referred to as "tea") or served with fried egg is popular in the streets in the evenings in urban centres. Migrant labourers also helped introduce these foods to rural regions by bringing them back to their families.
Today, regional variations in some popular European foodstuffs reflect the influence of the colonial powers' own cuisines. Demand for Western-style processed foods is now partially met by domestic production. Bread from wheat in Ghana is typically made in small or medium-size urban bakeries, while commodities such as instant coffee and margarine are produced in factories owned by multinational corporations such as Nestles and Unilever. Although these foods are no longer consumed only by an elite few, during times of economic hardship they are too expensive for the vast majority of the population, urban or rural.
Since independence, food donated or sold on concessionary terms by foreign countries—also known as food aid—has transformed both dietary and agricultural production patterns in Ghana. Various regimes of government in post-independence Ghana have willingly accepted food aid because it compensated for their own production shortfalls and ensured that cheap food supplies were available for politically important urban populations. It is estimated that 40 percent of Ghana's food import is in the form of food aid.
Food aid to Ghana has had four economic impacts: 1) it has served a leverage for donor countries to shape Ghana government's economic policies; 2) it provided the economy with additional imported resources; 3) it provided additional budgetary resources for development; and 4) conversely, it has created various disincentives as (a) it tends to drive down domestic prices of locally produced food, (b) it replaces food that would have been produced by Ghanaian farmers, (c) it creates import dependency as consumers develop a taste preference for imported commodities and switch away from locally produced food as is happening with poultry imports, and (d) it encourages the neglect of the development of domestic agriculture.
Donated and imported rice, for example, has been shown to have some effect on domestic production. It has been found that a 10 percent increase in donated/imported rice supply reduced domestic production by 7.5 percent. Despite food aid, Ghana suffers from food insecurity.
For donor countries such as the United States and those of the European Union, food aid has become a means for disposing of their own agricultural surpluses as well as for establishing African markets for their exports. The United States' Food for Peace Program, for example, has been used to grant African and other Third World countries low interest loans for the purchase of major U.S. agricultural commodities, such as wheat and soybean oil. The U.S. Congress approved the program in 1954 with the explicit aim of building new overseas markets. It succeeded: countries like Nigeria continued to purchase U.S. wheat even when the aid program was reduced, partly out of the concern to maintain political stability in the cities, where most wheat and other aid foods are consumed. Food aid from the European Union has also helped establish African markets for European goods, such as dried milk products.
Although food aid programs were once justified on humanitarian grounds, they have been widely criticized for undermining markets for Africa's domestically produced foodstuffs and for fostering an overdependence on imported foods. The dangers of such dependency became apparent in many African countries in the 1980s, when austerity measures imposed under World Bank structural adjustment programs drove up prices for import-based foods such as wheat, bread, and milk. The announcement of price rises set off "bread riots" in many African cities. Interestingly, during this period in Ghana, particularly between 1982 and 1984, attempts were made to use local substitutes. This effort, however, was not sustained.
Finally, Ghanaian food habits have changed along with the patterns and pressures of daily life, especially in the cities. As more and more people—especially women—commute across large cities to work and attend school, midday meals at home have become less practical. Instead, students, marketplace traders, and industrial and office workers rely on so-called street foods for one or more meals daily. Sold from “chop bars,” “fast food” kiosks, head trays, and carts in cities throughout Ghana, street-food fare is eclectic: offerings range from the traditional rice-and-sauce dishes popular among the cities' various Ghanaian ethnic communities to Ghanaian "fast foods" like fried or roasted plantains to Middle Eastern-style kebabs and European-style sandwiches and pastries. For many, street foods are not only more convenient but also more economical than home-prepared meals. Some traditional Ghanaian dishes require extensive preparation, so when the price of the ingredients and the cooking fuel is factored into the time spent shopping and cooking, it is often cheaper to buy these dishes from street vendors, who prepare them in large quantities. In Ghana, one needs no special qualification or training to sell food on the street. With the increase in food selling points along the streets of major roads in Accra and other big towns in the country, vendors need to be educated on food hygiene practices.
The variety of snacks and meals sold on the streets of Ghanaian cities reflects an enduring theme in Ghanaian cuisines: despite the many changes prompted by colonialism, urbanization, aid, and trade, traditional dishes based on locally produced ingredients are still valued. Indeed, because such dishes are now sold in multiethnic cities and eaten by migrants and travelers, they have become familiar far beyond the regions where they were originally developed. Waakye and koose from the north can be found throughout Ghana, for example. Restaurants founded by Ghanaian immigrants in Europe, Asia, Australia, and the Americas have also popularized these cuisines abroad.
Compared to previous decades, food habits have changed remarkable in Ghana and a lot of people eat food prepared and sold at all types of places-some of which unfortunately have dirty surroundings. Even relatively expensive restaurants may have poor environment. In Ghana, one needs no special qualification or training to sell food on the street. With the increase in food selling points along the streets of major roads in Accra and other big towns in the country, vendors need to be educated on food hygiene practices.