March 28, 2018

How Goats Define Food Sovereignty in East Africa And Beyond

Nani mbuzi?
Nani ng’ombe?”
“Nani kuku?”
Youll regularly hear a server yelling out in a local eatery in Kenya; a whacky way trying to identify who ordered goat meat, who ordered beef and who ordered chicken respectively.

Domesticated goats
Goats are ubiquitous all over East Africa in the urban and rural areas alike. In the urban areas they are considered a menace.  They roam about interfering in the human and vehicular traffic alike. They mingle with the humans in the market places scavenging for something to eat: a discarded cabbage; a fallen carrot stick, you get the idea. They are like their human counterparts- survivors. Their owners let them loose in the morning to go forage for themselves and later at sun set find their way home.  The demand for goat meat is so high that everyone tries to get a piece of the pie by raising goats whatever way possible to make extra cash.  The problem is some of the people trying to raise goats in the urban areas have no idea how to do it.  Firstly, they are violating town bylaws by raising animals in the town or city without proper shelters and provisions. Second, there isn’t enough pasture in the city for the goats to graze on and thirdly; nobody seems to care for them. They just roam around foraging for themselves. But, when the holidays are approaching, suddenly the owners want to sell them at a much higher price to anyone whos willing to pay.

My early encounter with goats was very early on when I was a child being raised by my grandparents; I remember when we go to the Boma - the fenced compound where we lived and where there were pens for the animals to spend the night - and there were lots of goats, sheep and cows coming back to the village every evening after a whole day out grazing. I remember when someone was pointing out to me to a huge cloud of dust from a distance and he would say that those were my grandfathers goats coming home.  I remember not seeing anything but a huge cloud of dust, but I also remember hearing the goatsbleating and their bleating, with the cows mooing became louder as they came closer to the Manyatta – the maasai boma. I hail from the Maasai community of Kenya. The Maasai are pastoralists. They still move around with their animals searching for pasture albeit with shrinking land now available for pasture and tightening government policies.  Besides, the lands that the Maasai occupy now are harsh arid and semi-arid lands that are not good for agriculture. I remember when I was young boy old enough to take the animals out to graze, I would head out with other older boys for a whole day and I remember enjoying the day out in the wild grazing the animals and learning things from the older boys on how to take care of the animals. Thats when you start noticing the difference in goats, sheep and cows. Not just on their sizes, but on how they graze and their behaviour towards each other and to humans.  The male ‘billy goats’ are bigger.  They stand out- with bigger horns and a tuff of beards under their chin. (Thats where the men’s goatee name comes from.) The other notable thing about billy goats is their unique musky odour and how they constantly get into head-butting fights with other goats. The baby goats are cutest things ever. They have these tiny faces, very friendly and they are always running around and jump on anything.

Goats grazing in an organic farm

Goats are very hardy animals and they are easy to raise if cared for well. They like grazing on shrubs as well as grass. I remember wondering how they were able to pick up the leaves from a thorny Acacia shrub and other shrubs while avoiding all the thorns. Because they feed on different herbs, shrubs and grass they dont seem to get sick easily like sheep and cows that just feed on grass. This also gives their meat a unique flavour and texture that people seem to like a lot. Goats raised in the urban areas dont have this unique flavour and thats why people living in the cities would rather drive few hours out of the city to the Manyattas out in the country in Maasai land to enjoy true authentic goat meat. Goat milk is also a delicacy. Even though the goats raised by the Maasai are mostly for meat, they produce milk, albeit in small amounts.

The goat meat – chevon: A delicacy!
Goats are very important to the Maasai and any other communities that raise animals. Every part of the goat is used and the meat can be prepared in so many ways that seems to leave the people wanting more. The hide is usually stretched out on a frame to air-dry it. Once dried, it can be sold to the tannery to be turned into beautiful items. Different parts of the goat can be prepared differently. The ribs and the thighs are usually roasted over fire slowly. This is popularly known as nyama-choma or roasted meat, which can be eaten with any other dish. Most people prefer to eat the nyama-choma with ugali or simathe popular corn meal. Others prefer it with sliced tomatoes, coriander onions and salt.  You can eat it whichever way you prefer and I can guarantee you that you will still enjoy it and you will be wanting more in a few days. The tripe once cleaned can be boiled then sautéed. The uncooked meat can be preserved by salting, made into strips and hanged to dry or can be smoked. Bones are boiled to make a stock also popularly known as Supu in Swahili. One can choose the drink Supu whichever way they like. Some prefer to add salt and some people prefer it just the way it is with nothing added. The Maasai usually boil some medicinal roots and bucks separately and mix the stock with the medicinal concoction and drink it that way. I remember how bitter it was and how my grandfather would encourage me to keep drinking until I was usually drenched in sweat.

Cooked chevon

Goats have been a great source of food security and sovereignty to many east African communities for millennia. They provide a source of protein, milk, hide and income. Their hardiness makes them even more suitable to the hot and dry climate and long droughts that east Africa sometimes go through. This ensures that families that usually depend on other activities like farming and rearing of other animals like cattle have something to rely on when all others fail.

For the Maasai and the east African communities living abroad the thought of the texture and flavours of goat meat at home brings about memories of good times with family and friends. So, every time we gather we get goat meat and prepare it like we do back home – roasting over fire- aka nyamachoma. The only problem is that the meat of goats raised on grains has a different texture and flavour than those raise on grass and herbs. But the sharing of the goat meat with few drinks and catching up with friends on the on goings in the home country overcomes the flavour and texture issues. The mention of goat meat to me means traditions, sharing and good times with family and friends. It brings about the smells of the Manyatta which I associate with my growing up and taking goats out to graze. I look back to my goat raising days with nostalgia.

Jeremiah Saringe, Guest Contributor, ECVOntario, SEDRD, University of Guelph
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March 4, 2018

Ethnocultural Food: A Nudge to Integration

The fundamental role of food is to provide us with the nutrition to keep us alive, however, it is so much more than that to me. It connects me to my heritage and roots. It defines my identity, keeps me associated with my ancestors, influences how I interact with my ethnic community and people from other cultures. It gives me a sense of ownership and pride. This brief review of my personal experience explains why.

As a son of two Somali parents, born and bred in Kenya, food was always a cornerstone in my family and community. In an ordinary day, we would have three main meals and one snack (usually, in the afternoons, between lunch and supper, to be specific). A typical breakfast consisted of three to five pieces of Canjeero (Laxoox) – a fermented pan bread that resembles, but is thinner, than a pancake. This is an all time Somali classic, served in different ways. It is sprinkled with some sugar and drizzled with a little sesame oil or melted ghee and then mashed with black tea; or with goat or camel stew; with tender liver; or with Muqmad (Oodkac) – a deep-fried tiny pieces of jerky-style camel meat cubes. Alternatively, Malawax, crepe-like sweeter, thinner, and oleaginous version, could be served in the place of Canjeero (Laxoox).

Anjeera (Canjeera) served with goat stew and a cup of black tea.

Lunch, commonly, would be a rice cooked with cubes of goat or camel meat, some vegetables, tons of spices and served with banana, fresh slices of lime as well as chili chutney, adding contrasting flavours. On some occasions, Italian pasta could be prepared and served with a spice enhanced camel (goat) stew. A combination of the two dishes (rice and pasta) form unique dish popularly known as Fatareeshin.

Sabaayad (Chapati) – a crispier, East-African version of naan-bread, Muufo -a corn flatbread, or Soor (Ugali as Kenyans would call it) -corn grits - all served with goat/camel stew and banana would also make a great lunch. (The Sabaayad and Muufo could also be served as breakfast). Cambuulo – a mix of corn or rice and azuki beans drizzled with sugar and sesame oil – the popular dish for supper.
Snacks such as Samosas and Mandazi along with sugar-sweetened, black tea spiced with herbs and /or milk is the most common Asaryo – the late afternoon snack session.

Chapati (Sabayaad) served with goat stew. 

On Festive events such as weddings and Eid celebration, Halwa – (Confection-like) and Buskut Somali (Cookies), both very sweet, are the main snacks of the day.
Interestingly, due to the pastoral nature of the Somali community, the dishes contain a lot of meat and fewer vegetables. Also, banana is the most consumed fruit and is usually a part of most meals.

 Food adventures and challenges

Towards the end of the summer of 2016, I waved goodbye to my family and took a fourteen-hour long flight to Canada, I was not only feeling mentally prepared for the stressful new challenges but was also confident enough that I would overcome them, settle in like a duck to water and as the plane touched down at Pearson International Airport, I was happy as a lark, looking forward to getting to my new residence, meeting with new friends, and immersing myself in a new culture.

I eventually reached Guelph, my final destination where I will spend the next four years and beyond if possible. The atmosphere was great, it’s still summer and I wasn’t worried about the harsh weather, as it would take another four months before the winter season starts. The people were warm, ever-smiling and helpful. It felt like I was in Disney, a fantasy world.

Nonetheless, that enthusiasm only lasted until I headed to one of the campus cafeterias with the hope of grabbing something to eat. The menu seemed to be completely different and confusing. I couldn’t find any of dishes I was familiar with. Pork, cooked in different styles and with different names was abundantly available, but because of my Islamic beliefs, trying it was off the table. Apart from few items, most of the other meat dishes were not Halal (meat prepared according to Islamic dietary law), or contained mushrooms (Barkin Waraabe, as we would call it in the Somali language), a fungus I regarded as wild, poisonous weed and that I never had the guts to eat them, at least for that day and the subsequent weeks.

The few Halal options were not tasting good either and I had a feeling that they were contaminated with pork. “Is this chicken Halal?” I would always ask and when the server responded in a polite manner “Yes please”, I had my follow up question, “Are you sure?” I was insecure, over-suspicious and fearful.

Food seemed to be pricey and I never understood why four pieces of chicken fingers would cost eight bucks when that same amount of money would feed a family of three people in Kenya, or why people consumed so much pork. I had a legitimate point on the latter though, as I recently learned that according to a survey conducted by Maple Leaf Foods Inc., when presented with the options of bacon and sex, 43% of Canadians say they’d opt for the bacon. It was a real nightmare.

I was however very fortunate to have had very supportive, fantastic new friends who were always ready to take me out and show me the local restaurants, making sure I had my meals every day. They help me integrate and without them, I believe I wouldn’t have made it this far. But despite all their efforts, it was an uphill for me to develop a taste for most of the food. I awkwardly hated almost everything on the menu.

As days turned into weeks, and weeks turned into months, I slowly adjusted to the system and the frustrations vanished little by little. I started going out alone, appreciating and developing a taste for at least some of the food. I realized that because of the multicultural nature of this country, there were plenty of eatery options for everyone including me.

When all the anxiety were gone and was developing a sense of belonging, I began a mission to experience, learn and discover the lots of different foods across cultures while clutching mine. At first, I hesitated, as it sounded weird and crazy to me, but something inside me was telling me to go for it. So I sketched a new diet routine, ventured away from the meals I already knew, and to new ones. Some of the cuisines like the sushi and teriyaki were exotic and first-timers to my diet. They were however breathtaking.

Nevertheless, in the mid of my journey, I found out a hidden gem in the northern end of Guelph, an Ethiopian restaurant that serves Injera – a traditional Ethiopian-Eriterian dish that resembles the Somali Laxoox (fermented pancake). This dish reconnected me to my roots, it reminded me of the blessing hands of my mom, and from my first visit, I knew that it would be a special and sacred place to me.

How can I wind up this piece without mentioning my one week as a vegan? First, I have to confess that, before I moved to Canada, I honestly never knew that there were people who abstained from eating animal products. When one of my friends told me that they don't, I thought that they lost their minds, however, after browsing the topic through the internet, I found out what they meant. Believing that I will never know until I try, I went for it. It was the first time that I survived two consecutive days without meat in my diet. It was challenging but ultimately was a great experience.

In short, my journey with food is a real adventure. All the cuisines I have tried so far were apparently inspiring, each with unique flavours and special aromas, with many similarities at the same time, but none, other than Somali cuisine in GTA came with banana in the package, so I had to always take my banana with me because I have a serious love affair with it, similar to what Canadians have with bacon.

Cambuulo ( a mixture of corn and adzuki beans)

Luqman Osman, Undergraduate Research Assistant, ECVOntario, University of Guelph.
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