Travel & Food memories from KENYA

DSC_0736Hello again! It’s been a while since I last posted, but I finally found some time to write about my recent trip. I came back two weeks ago from yet another beautiful travel with my university: we spent two weeks in Kenya, travelling around the countryside from a village to another, visiting the local communities, farmers and their homes.
It was intense in the sense that we saw so much within the little time we were there, and I’m finally taking time now to process all the visits and experiences in my head.

We were a group of 15 students, guided by 2 ex-students that now are in charge of Slow Food Kenya. We got to see how locals eat, how they prepare their food, where they get it from, how they produce it, and also learned about the most relevant issues surrounding Kenyan food production up to date.

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Kenyans are so wonderful, always welcoming and warm. Although they live in a very humble way (for our standards) they are most often smiling and generous with others.
We never saw any other white person during our visit, maybe also due to the fact that it wasn’t a touristy trip, so we felt very observed and many people on the streets would seem so surprised to see us as if it was the first time to see a caucasian person.

The food was very simple yet tasty. The variety is much more limited than what we are used to, but we could tell how every cook made it in a different way. We always had lots of vegetables (cooked cabbage, and fresh salads), rice and maize “polenta”, beans and lentils, meat stews, chapati (Indian flat bread). In between meals we were often served tea, which they have with lots of milk (locals would make their cup with half water half milk and tons of sugar). There is a lot of Indian influence in their cuisine since it used to be a British colony, and lots of Indians were shipped over to work on railways. They do not consume any type of dairy except for milk (in their tea).
Unfortunately, since the 80s, globalization has disrupted their diets and they started consuming lots of sugar (sugar used to be a luxury food, now it’s so cheap!), and frying with palm oil or margarine. Because of these changes in diet, the main health issue is now cancer (it used to be HIV), and the hospitals don’t have enough radiotherapy machines to treat everyone.

The many farmers we visited seemed to all have the same problem of seeds. The big agrifood businesses (like Monsanto) have brainwashed the producers, making them believe their seeds will bring in more profit because of their higher yields. The problem of privatized seeds is that each season the farmers need to buy the seeds again, since they’ve been genetically created to not grow again after being used once. And the only herbicide that will work is usually a partner of the seed manufacturer (like RoundUp), so they are forced to buying also that product. The more these kinds of seeds are used, the more the biodiversity loss, the more environmental damages due to the high use of chemicals (if you keep planting the same plant, you will most likely have more predators and insects) and the more economic debts these farmers have to face with (the seeds are sold for a very high price in comparison to the price they sell the produce for). Today, it is even illegal to keep and reproduce your own seeds because it goes against these corporations’ interests.
In the many fields we walked through, we saw tons of Monsanto bags, Roundup bottles, and other chemical products.
We visited a Seed Saver organization that explained the problem to us, but also showed the hope of some farmers which are fighting against seed privatization, and trying to educate other farmers.

We were served a lot of meat during the trip (basically every meal of the day). We did see a lot of animals both on the farmer’s properties, and on the streets, usually tied up to eat the grass. Every family had a cow, maybe a couple goats or chickens. Yet, the amount of meat we (not me!) ate was way over the amount that they could possibly be getting from their own animals. We later learned that actually they have a lot of industrial animal farming, and also that it is more a rarity than an everyday food. The fact that we were served it so much goes to show how the people were being welcoming and considered it a special moment to have us.
During the first farm visit, we witnessed the killing of a goat. Although we all considered it to be done quite un-humanely, it is true that in countries like this NOTHING is wasted (which is not a good excuse for the unethical treatment of an animal). The blood, the head, the bones, the skin and everything was used, except for the stomach and some other innards.
The fact that some of the people in the group couldn’t see the killing and had to leave before goes to show how we, as “western society”, have become so unrelated to our food. We are so used to seeing a piece of packaged clean meat at the shops, without connecting it to the living being it came from. If we cannot even bear to see pictures or videos of an animal being slaughtered, why then are we so fine with eating it? I find it so naive.

Surprisingly, Kenya has the strictest ban on plastic bags in the world. Even when we arrived at the airport, they scanned our luggage to make sure we did not have any plastic bags inside. Apparently, plastic bags were being found everywhere (there was even the so called “flying toilet”….because of the lack of toilets, people would do their businesses in a bag, then throw it above the roofs of homes). Yet, the amount of plastic we saw on the side of the streets was incredible, there is no garbage picking/recycling system or education about it, so everything just falls on the ground. Even in the organic farms, we would see plastic in the compost piles.

There were so many kids playing on the streets but also working in the fields.
It was a wonderful trip, and I wish to someday go back to Kenya and visit other parts we were unable to see.

5 Comments

  1. Very interesting article. I would be interested to know if any of the students or people leading your group have any ideas on how to address these disturbing issues you saw there, especially about the seeds. What language is spoken there?

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    1. Almost everyone speaks English, because it is thaught in school, and because it was a British colony. The problem about the seeds is a big one in many places around the world, even where we live. That’s why it’s important to support small, local farmers that produce in a sustainable preferably organic way 🙂

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  2. Loved this travel blog Amber, thank you so much for writing it. The seed issue is as vast as the whole world: here in the Piacentini hills in Italy, the small farmer I buy my produce from has complained over the years that THEY ARE FORCED TO BUY THE SEEDS FROM THE BIG CORPORATIONS – they have us tied up around their fingers! MONSANTO IS A VERY SCARY REALITY WE KNOW VERY LITTLE ABOUT.

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