A pan of steaming food on the hob

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Why traditional cooking isn’t always healthier: the case of Ghanaians in Manchester and in Accra

In popular discussions of healthy eating, including political rhetoric and nutrition counselling, women are often blamed for a lack of nutrition knowledge or cooking skills, leading to the assumption that a decline in cooking skills is connected with unhealthy diets and obesity. This has been called a “deficit approach” and my research with Ghanaian women set out to challenge some of its assumptions.

Previous studies on Ghanaian immigrants showed that following their arrival in the United Kingdom, most maintained their dietary traditions. This cuts against the perception that they, like others, would quickly succumb to fast-food culture in high-income countries. We also know that traditional diets, while seemingly healthy, can also contain excess calories and fat and thus cause a range of health issues such as type 2 diabetes, cancer, and hypertension. The reason for this may lie in the way the home-cooked food is prepared, cooked, or served.

Seeing versus telling

We asked Ghanaian women living in Manchester, England, and in Accra, Ghana, to take photographs of their own cooking experience. We then used the photographs as a prompt to allow participants to tell the “stories” of their everyday cooking.

In both countries, the women said that they viewed their practices as a distinct subtype of home cooking, characterised by raw ingredients and/or whole foods, locally produced ingredients and specialised equipment. They also saw themselves as cooking with love and care and adhering to culturally acceptable ways of feeding their families.

“I have introduced my kids to the local dishes, and they love them, and one of my boy’s favourites is yam. Every now and then I tend to cook spinach or what is called ‘nkontomire’.” (Manchester resident)

Analysis of participants’ photos demonstrated hybrid cooking practices, with a combination of ingredients and cooking methods and/or techniques. In some cases, the hybrid methods contributed to unhealthy food practices, including the excessive use of oil and processed foods/flavourings; extended periods of stewing and frying. Many women continued to cherish their asanka, an earthenware grinding pot central to Ghanaian cooking.

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Read the full article by Dr Hibbah Osei-Kwasi, Lecturer, School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences, Loughborough University:


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