Veg*n Foods In Kenyan Media
As low- and middle-income countries develop, there is often a “nutrition transition.” The diets of people in that country become higher in sugars, fats, processed carbohydrates, and are more focused around animal products. However, some studies suggest that Kenya is not currently following the expected pattern of this nutrition transition.
Many factors influence dietary choices. Trade and production affect the availability of different food types. Social and cultural factors like health, habits, and attitudes may affect personal choices. It is important to understand how the local media influences personal food choices, especially in countries like Kenya, where it is expected the general diet may be beginning to change.
The authors of this study reviewed four sources. These consisted of two popular food blogs, a magazine, and a weekly column in a newspaper’s supplemental magazine, for food-related images and themes. They wanted to explore what kind of attitudes were presented surrounding meat-based and veg*n meals, to examine if they hold different places within the Kenyan culture. 518 blog posts, 11 magazine issues, and 27 newspapers columns were reviewed.
The image count suggested that vegetarian items were the main focus of the blogs. In the magazine, 299 images were classified as vegan, but 80% of these were images of coffee or alcohol. When looking only at images of meals, the majority were meat-based. Meanwhile, the study identified two main themes related to food-based content: “lifestyle” and “nation,” though each source portrayed them slightly differently.
In the magazine, lifestyle messaging treated food as an experience, and suggested meat-based dishes were important for impressing guests with food. The column showed both meat-based and vegetarian meals, but there was much more emphasis on meat in recipes relating to festivities and local specialities.
In the blogs, the lifestyle theme focused on family. It was often portrayed that meat is what the family wants. However, when it came to feeding children, vegetarian options were more regularly suggested. The blogs also suggested that vegetarian recipes are linked to good health.
The main findings show that meat-based dishes are depicted as an experience, while vegetarian items are often promoted more as quick or convenient foods, rather than as a cultural staple. Vegan items feature the least prominently, except when alcoholic beverages are included.
The study concludes that it is important to support local food-related attitudes, beliefs and traditions in order to preserve current dietary habits and prevent a “Westernization” of food choices. The authors also suggest ways that more veg*n choices can be incorporated into Kenyan diets. For example, veg*n food events or festivals may be one potential way to promote these types of food within the local culture. A second suggestion is to give awards to culinary professionals who create veg*n dishes. This would aim to inspire creations of new veg*n dishes and foods that also align with the cultural or lifestyle values of the area. A final suggestion involves the promotion of “restaurant weeks”, where special menus or deals could be offered, creating the opportunity for diners to enjoy a “food experience” within a veg*n context.
The authors suggest that the overarching goal should be to prevent veg*n items from being a passing trend. Instead, integrating them into the media’s most prominent themes, like lifestyle and nation, may influence food choices through topics that matter to Kenyan communities.