African Heritage & Health Week (February 1st-7th)

February 1, 2021 – Alli Boyer, Adult Services

I am, admittedly, a picky eater.  I usually tend to stick with safe foods that I know and love from my childhood, such as chicken strips or Kraft mac n’ cheese.  That being said, I came across this image of the African Heritage Diet Pyramid and was intrigued:

The first thing that stood out to me was the very bottom of the pyramid, indicating that one of the most important parts of being healthy was to share and “enjoy meals with others” followed closely by the large, leafy greens.  

This pyramid is not like the food pyramid I grew up looking at in school, so I followed Oldways link to discover the African Heritage and Health Week, which celebrates these traditional food divisions, as well as the healthy cooking heritage found in traditional African diets.

Oldways goes on to list 10 essentials steps for consuming an African Heritage Diet:

  1. Boost flavor with spice.
  2. Make vegetables the star of your plate.
  3. Change the way you think about meat.
  4. Make rice and beans your new staple.
  5. Enjoy mashes and medleys.
  6. Find real foods everywhere. 
  7. Family support and food fellowship.
  8. Make room for celebration foods.
  9. Jazz up fruits for dessert.
  10. Drink (water) to your health. 

If you’re as curious as I am, here’s what I found out about traditional African cuisine.  Let’s break it down by location.

North African Cuisine:
North African cuisine was influenced by traders bringing various foods from other countries, such as sausage, wheat, olives, and spices. During the Ottoman reign, North Africa was introduced to pastries, and it received potatoes, tomatoes, and zucchini from the New World. Because of these trade routes, North African cuisine was more heavily influenced by the outside world than other regions in Africa.

South African Cuisine:
South African cuisine was influenced by the various indigenous tribes throughout the region. Different tribes favored different dishes. For example, Bantu-speakers preferred grains and fermented grains, the Khoi-Khoi preferred meat and milk, and the San preferred wild animals and gathered vegetables.

East African Cuisine:
East African cuisine is as varied as its geography. Interestingly, many viewed cattle, sheep, pigs, and goats as currency, resulting in an absence of meat in most cuisine. Some tribes would consume the milk or blood of cattle, but not the actual meat, so most East African cuisine is made of grains and vegetables.

West African Cuisine:
West African cuisine places a high regard on beverages, specifically water. In dry areas of this region, a good host will offer water above any other delicacy. Palm wine, which is made from the fermented sap of palm trees, is also a common beverage in West Africa. 

African cookbooks in our collection:
The Africa cookbook : taste of a continent by Jessica B. Harris
Between Harlem and Heaven : Afro Asian American cooking for big nights, weeknights, & every day by J.J. Johnson
Afro-vegan : farm-fresh African, Caribbean & Southern flavors remixed by Bryant Terry
70 traditional African recipes : authentic classic dishes from all over Africa adapted for the Western kitchen, all shown step by step in 300 simple-to-follow photographs by Rosamund Grant
The great book of couscous : classic cuisines of Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia by Copeland Marks

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