(MENAFN- The Conversation) 'You are what you eat', as the phrase goes, can also be said for ethnicity . West African migrants living in Europe have high prevalence of obesity and type 2 diabetes as compared to their compatriots in Africa, yet research on the food practices of this population is still in its infancy. Published in 2017 in the journal Annals of Human Biology, our research explored the food practices of one of the largest West African migrant groups in Europe.
Our study looked at Ghanaians living in Greater Manchester, and found that they retained to a varying degrees some aspects of Ghanaian food practices while adopting different aspects of what they perceived as 'westernised' or UK food culture.
Continuity, flexibility, change
Three typologies were identified that cut across the types of foods consumed; the context for consuming such foods; patterning of meals; food preparation and purchasing behaviours.
Continuity of Ghanaian food practices . The majority of those studied described their food practices as mostly consistent with what they perceived to be prevalent in Ghana. These practices were visible among mostly relatively older first-generation immigrants and people who were either retired or unemployed. People in this group described themselves as eating primarily Ghanaian foods and only consuming foods prevalent in the UK as a way to just get away from the usual.
Given that many Ghanaian dishes can require hours of preparation, people in this group shopped and prepared traditional stews and soups in bulk – enough to last for weeks or even months – and stored these in their freezers.
Flexible practices . A smaller number of people described their food practices in the UK as less strictly matching those they perceived to be prevalent in Ghana, while simultaneously adopting some UK food practices. These practices were mostly visible among more recent migrants, participants who migrated as children, a few older participants who have lived in the UK for more than 20 years, and families with young children. Most people in this group tend to have foods that the perceived as British mainly for breakfast and lunch while dinner varied between Ghanaian and UK foods.
Changed food practices . Only a few people described themselves as eating mainly a broad range of foods prevalent in the UK. These practices were mostly visible among second generation migrants who tended to be of middle/high socioeconomic status. These people ate out a lot with friends unlike the people with continuity and flexible practices. They also often bought breakfast and lunch from work canteens. Ghanaian meals were eaten mainly during Ghanaian events:
The overlap between the perceived UK and Ghanaian food practices across the three typologies of food practice shows that there is no clear transition from 'traditional' to 'westernised' food practices following migration. It also shows that Ghanaians are an 'integrated group', meaning that they're interested in both maintaining their culture while trying to adopt some cultural aspects of a new society, also known as biculturalism . This was confirmed in our second study that used data from the RODAM project .
African ethic groups such as Somalian, Algerian and Egyptians living in the Norway showed similar results in a 2012 study conducted among a mixed immigrant population. These typologies are also similar to the patterns demonstrated in a 2001 model of dietary acculturation that looked at immigrants in the United States.
Ghanaian dishes such as kenkey, pepper and fish are often spicy, one of the reasons that some immigrants in the UK prefer traditional foods over British staples. Author provided
What drives Ghanaians food practices
When we asked Ghanaians who continued to consume traditional foods even though they have lived in the UK for decades or were born in the UK, they spoke of their need and desire to maintain cultural identity and conform to tradition. Factors that facilitated continuity of Ghanaian food practices included social networks, church gatherings and readily available ethnic shops in Greater Manchester.
Everyone in our study preferred the taste of Ghanaian foods over those from the UK and in all accounts perceived UK foods as dull and not spicy enough. UK foods were perceived by people with continuity practices as limited in variety and as being unhealthy, while participants with changed practices often perceived UK dietary practices as healthier than Ghanaian practices. For instance, a participant with a changed practice noted that Ghanaian foods are heavily dependent on cooking oil:
A participant with continuity practice stated:
These contrasting views might be due to the different perspectives of what comprised UK foods and Ghanaian/traditional foods. For instance, some participants perceived tea with sugar, milk and bread as a westernised type of breakfast, while others perceived this as a typical Ghanaian breakfast because this is prevalent as breakfast in many Ghanaian homes in Ghana. This variation in perception is not surprising given that food practices are not static and have evolved over the years due to, for example, the nutrition transition .
Another possible explanation for this blurred line between certain Ghanaian foods and UK foods might also be due to the historical colonial influence by the British. The British presence in West Africa brought about changes in the traditional diet. In Ghana, people in the urban south, where the British predominantly resided, incorporated some practices like including milk, tea and breakfast cereals in their regular diet , which further blurs the line between what is traditional Ghanaian food and what is not.
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