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Climate Change, Taboos Surrounding Food Contribute To Malnutrition In Mali

POLITICO Magazine: Eat Not This Fish
Anna Badkhen, author

“…What we choose to include in our diet and what we disallow describes a story, a history. Like the Fulani catfish ban, food taboos can be maps tracing our very specific connections to the Pleistocene forefathers on the African savannah, ritual expressions of our cultural identities. … Food taboos are also borders meant to keep things away — poor health, evil eye, outsiders, loneliness. Malnutrition, on the other hand, is a void, an opening. It weakens the body, invites illness, death. But what happens when an ancient rite meets a new, modern problem: a rapidly drying continent? In an analysis it published this winter, the USAID Office of Food for Peace cites ‘lack of knowledge of proper nutrition’ and ‘taboos in some ethnic groups that discourage the consumption of eggs or meat’ as major causes of malnutrition in Mali. … In [Malian pastoralist Oumarou Diakayaté’s] mind, by refusing catfish he preserves the integrity of his milking hands, the future of his family: Like any diet, a food taboo is a mechanism of control. But, of course, he preserves nothing…” (7/7).

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