Monday, March 01, 2010

Racism and food color preference: white corn, white wheat, white rice

I wonder about a connection between racism and food color preferences in sub-Saharan Africa, where "white" is always the best (e.g., corn, rice, flour). In James McCann's important Maize and Grace, Africa's Encounter with a New World Crop, 1500-2000, he explains how much of southern Africa's preference for white corn over multi-colored corn evolved from policies of colonial governments  ("What's in a color," pp. 111-118).

Similarly, Ghana produces no wheat of its own, but imports wheat flour heavily from places like the U.S., and white bread has long been considered more prestigious than flour from any locally grown grains or root crops. While recently "brown bread" has begun to appear (also from imported flour), traditional breads from grains and processed cassava and plantains, etc., seem to have no future. I realize this is mixing other things besides simple color issues, but it still gives me pause.

In Nigerian poet Flora Nwapa's poems Cassava Song and Rice Song, cassava is the nurturer and imported rice is the enemy. It seems strange to Westerners to hear rice being denounced that way. Not every African grows up eating rice. Yes, there are rice growing areas, but even in Ghana, the more nutritious native rice from the Northern regions is being supplanted by subsidized imported white rice from places like the U.S. and Thailand (often lower quality, broken rice, too). It is said that Ghana now imports about 80% of its rice from these two countries. The inability of indigenous rice farmers to compete against white wheat flour or white rice has negative consequences for development.

All of this makes me very sad, and I long for people to recognize and change these realities.


Dia&Kofi said...

Great post. I think we should start a movement to force the Ghana government to support Ghana-grown rice by serving it in the boarding schools and at state functions.

Unknown said...

I share with you, and thanks for the good job you're doing.
Africa remains washed off of it's values and a marketing grounds for other countries economy.