What’s really cooking in Guyana?
(Stabroek News) – Food is so central to human life and culture that a West African proverb maintains that “There is no god quite like our stomach, as we must make sacrifices to it every day!” In fact, every culture is identified by, among other means, a distinctive cuisine and thus through food tells of its unique adaptation to the environment. Today there is a growing interest in sustainable food, with roots in the 1970s Slow Food movement, emphasizing local agriculture, optimal nutrition and environmental justice. Although typically trivialized as a mere necessity, food is an undisputed force and could be a site of empowerment against the hazards of commercial food industries. Guyana’s rich history and geography positions it to contribute to the modern sustainable food movement.
Guyana’s food sector should be a public policy priority in light of foodways’ strong cultural relevance and current trends in ecotourism, sustainable agriculture and diets. Guyanese understand the significance of being called a “nyam go way,” a name given to someone who visits someone’s home and eats, but leaves too quickly to gyaff or meaningfully interact. Similarly, an Italian tradition maintains that it is ineffective to engage others on an empty stomach. Such entrenched values affirm the significance of food beyond sustenance and satiation.
What sparked my effort to understand Guyanese food culture, and the potential of this sector, was a conversation I overheard a few years ago at an internet café in Bourda, Georgetown about the apparent disappearance of a fruit called bird-shit. I had been returning to Guyana for annual visits and had already reacquainted myself with such fruits delights as Awara, Dunks, Genip, Gooseberry, Jamoon, Sapodilla, Maumee, Soursop, Tamarind, Kuru, Whitey, Five Fingers, Sourie/One Finger/Blim Blim, Simatoo, as well as Cheese & Bread, Fat Pork, and Stinking Toe. Even with such a seemingly endless array of fruits, I wondered at the loss of such a colorfully named fruit, and about what other foods might be endangered. Who knows, bird-shit could be the proverbial “canary in the mine,” warning of diminishing biodiversity and missed opportunities for food sustainability and security.
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