Academic journal article African Studies Review

Food, Culture, and Survival in an African City

Academic journal article African Studies Review

Food, Culture, and Survival in an African City

Article excerpt

Karen Coen Flynn. Food, Culture, and Survival in an African City. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005. xvii + 211 pp. Figures. Tables. Photographs. Bibliography. Index. $22.95. Paper.

Karen Coen Flynn's study of day-to-day activities of food vendors, producers, and consumers in Mwanza, Tanzania, on the southern shore of Lake Victoria, is based on fieldwork conducted in the early to mid-1990s, after the Tanzanian government had moved away from a centrally controlled economic system. At that time Mwanza had a population of about 280,000, mostly ethnic Africans with a significant Asian-African community. The discussion of her interview-based methodology is followed by seven substantial chapters which form the main body of the monograph. Chapter 3 describes broad patterns of consumption, which are explored in the context of the impact of local, regional, and national factors ranging from pricing, to government policies, to religion, and to taste. This sets the stage for chapters 4-7, which focus on the household, the key site for the provisioning processes that Flynn aims to unravel. Extensive interviews show how differences in migration history, in gender-based access to wage labor, and in declining support from rural relatives are linked to the ways that male and female incomes are used within households to obtain food. These differences are also linked to variation in household composition and household responsibilities. Economic factors also account for the greater participation of wealthier households in urban agriculture as a supplementary source for food.

Chapters 8 and 9 constitute an unusually important contribution to African urban ethnography and studies of food provisioning. Here Flynn provides an account of persons outside the normative domestic units: the homeless street people, both adults and children. For the destitute, hunger is addressed through "exchange entitlement" with individuals and organizations. These exchanges are carried out within various "food-supply groups" in which an individual may participate, depending on age, health or disfigurement, and/or gender. The groups parallel the various household organizational structures resulting from the differential access to food described in earlier chapters. …

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