The Food Challenge
Food is an integral part of learning about any culture. If you are looking to get an authentic experience then you are going to have to try the local dishes. When I was told that meat is the main component of the typical Tanzanian diet, I was a bit nervous to say the least. As someone who regularly flirts with veganism, I knew that I was going to have to be prepared to step outside of my comfort zone. Absorbing the true Tanzanian spirit is important to me so I made a compromise and established a balance between my beliefs and my desire to absorb culture. While red meat and dairy remained on the restricted list, I was to embrace all other culinary experiences with open arms… and after less than a week in Karatu my compromise has been put to the test.
The first challenge was lunch on day one. We stopped at a local joint called Chicken Chief where we had the option of fish and chips or chicken and chips. Fish and chips it was, and an hour or so later (we are on Swahili time after all) I was presented a plate with a tinfoil wrapper and fries. My family cooks salmon at home all the time, therefore I thought nothing of this metallic package and opened it right up. As expected there was fish, but I certainly was not expecting the whole fish – fins, eyeballs, skin, and all. But I was ready for this. That is, as long as I could figure out how to eat it! Luckily I was sitting next to some of the CPAR staff and they kindly demonstrated how to eat this Tanzanian dish. Just dig in with your hands! So, I did. How else are you going to avoid all those tiny bones? Knife and fork? Forget it.
My second challenge came during dinner on Wednesday night. Japhet informed us that we would be dining at Manyasini, a popular place in the heart of Karatu that serves authentic Tanzanian choma, or BBQ. After thoroughly enjoying the fish adventure, I was not only ready for this next test but looking forward to it. Several plates each of BBQ chicken, BBQ beef, and chips were placed along the centre of the table. Evidently, we are all sharing but where are the plates, cutlery, and serving utensils? Once again we dig in with our hands. After a brief moment of hesitation, everyone at the table dropped their Western perceptions, jumped right in, and enjoyed the experience. But the challenge was not over yet – where are we supposed to put the bones? Right on the table of course!
These experiences have inspired me to reflect on my personal relationship with food, what I eat, and where it comes from. In recent years my motive to eat as vegan as possible has come from the environmental impact caused by our Western meat industry. But this is not the same situation in Tanzania. The food they eat here is all locally grown. In fact, it reminds me of the 100 Mile Diet philosophy created by Alisa Smith and J. B. MacKinnon. They promote eating locally, within 100 miles of your home, stating that it is not only tastes better and is beneficial for your health but will stimulate the local economy all while having a lesser impact on the environment.
Sustainability is a core concept of all of CPAR’s initiatives. From the conservation agriculture techniques taught to the Farmer’s Field Schools, to the energy-saving stoves families build in their homes, to the rain water harvesting tanks built for school children, the CPAR team is helping families better their lives by giving them the tools and knowledge to increase their income while ensuring a positive future by promoting sustainability.
I’ll conclude with some food for thought (no pun intended). We label Tanzania as a developing nation, yet we both face serious problems that impact the future of our respective nations. Tanzania faces the tough issues of access to clean water and food security but is dealing with it by working at the grassroots level and relying on creativity and ingenuity to work with what they have – and from what I have seen in the past week, there is significant success and progress. Canada has major sustainability issues that we need to understand and work through to find a lasting solution. While there has been some effort at the consumer level, more and more companies are providing products that claim to be environmentally friendly, the results thus far are minimal. Perhaps there is something we can learn from Tanzania in the sustainability challenge while recognizing that in this current state of global affairs we are all developing nations, fighting for a brighter future.