The cuisines of Italy and southern and eastern Africa don’t have much in common. One thing they do share, though, is the concoction of boiled maize meal which we call polenta, Kenyans call ugali and Zimbabweans sadza. I remember my wife’s excitement — she’s from Kenya — as I first explained to her about polenta when we saw it listed in the menu of a Milanese restaurant in Rome many years back now.
That quickly turned to something close to disappointment — if not disgust — when she saw the stuff, in all its golden goodness. She was expecting it to be white. Yellow maize she associated with hard times, she explained. It came into the country as food aid in bad years when she was a girl, to be eaten by poor people.
I guess I thought this was something that was confined to Kenya, but a paper just out in Food Policy tells a very similar — though perhaps more statistically robust — story from Zimbabwe.1 The authors surveyed people’s attitudes to yelow maize in 360 households in three rural districts and the two main urban centres.
Yellow maize is rich in provitamin A, and could be a good way of combating vitamin A deficiency in vulnerable groups. But because it is mainly available in imported food aid, and also has a tendency to develop a bad taste if not handled properly, people just don’t like eating it — and don’t grow it. The authors suggest that nutritional education aimed at low-income groups might stimulate local production and consumption. But I think the social stigma associated with it will be difficult to dislodge. At least if my wife’s attitude is anything to go by.
Incidentally, when I talked to Jeremy about this post he said that there is a clear geographic divide in the USA between regions which prefer white and yellow maize, but he couldn’t remember the details. And I wasn’t able to find anything online. Maybe someone out there can help.
- Tawanda Muzhingi, Augustine S. Langyintuo, Lucie C. Malaba and Marianne Banziger. Consumer acceptability of yellow maize products in Zimbabwe. Food Policy. In Press, available online 31 October 2007. [↩]