SP7: Meal Cultures in Market Trends and Consumption Habits


Food availability and access as well as food quality are generally regarded as important criteria for food security and poverty reduction. However, there are other important aspects which contribute to food security. This project focuses at food habits and meal cultures as important features of food security. The way how meals are prepared, served and shared influence food security, both from a nutritional and social point of view.

Vegetables are mostly not eaten raw. In East Africa the indigenous leafy sorts are mainly cooked or fermented. That means, horticultural products, such as African Leafy Vegetables (AIVs) are turned into meals which encompasses a whole set of activities, such as processing, cooking, steaming, baking and serving. Social relations and gender relations in particular significantly influence the way how meals are prepared and shared within a community. This subproject conceptualizes meals as conduits of social interaction and networking; meals can build social and cultural ties which significantly contribute to the wellbeing of household and community members. Community members who eat alone are in some contexts regarded as poor. That means having no one to share meals is associated with food insecurity and poverty (Teherani-Krönner 1999: 208). As a consequence, the concept of ‘Meal Security’ enables us to develop a deeper understanding of human nourishment in the context of gendered processes of social communication and symbolic interaction.

There is a considerable body of literature on the sociology of food which analyses food habits in different cultural contexts. Scholars investigate, for instance, customs and rituals of meal preparation or the role of religious food habits. These analyses, however, are not taken into account within the international food security debate. This subproject aims at linking up the debate of food security with analyses of food habits and meal cultures. Referring to the interdisciplinary approach on ‘critical food studies’ and ‘foodways’ that cover the cultural, social and economic practices relating to the production and consumption of food, this subproject intends to contribute to a deeper understanding of the ecological, cultural, social and gendered embeddedness of food security.


Analyzing meal cultures includes the analysis of the division of labor in the spheres of production and social reproduction. Special emphasis will be put on the local knowledge about food preferences and needs on the one hand, and about AIVs – about their nutritional advantages, their production and preparation – on the other hand. The insights from the analysis will shed light on meal habits and, as a consequence, on the consumption behavior of rural and urban households and communities.

This subproject combines agricultural and horticultural research approaches with research methods of nutritional, social and cultural sciences. The objective is to generate relevant knowledge in regard to the following aspects:

  • Knowledge about processes of meal preparation, processing and fermentation will be generated. By focussing at environmental conditions, the infrastructural facilities and all needed items as well as activities and people that are involved in the meal preparation process the research will provide a comprehensive view on food ways and meal cultures within the formal and informal systems.
  • Knowledge about meal preferences and needs that are deeply embedded in local value systems and cultural settings will provide insights on consumption attitudes and patterns of rural and urban households and communities. This will shed light on societal aspects of leafy indigenous vegetables and offer background information to develop culturally adequate innovation within the value chains.
  • Changes in food and meal habits will be documented and assessed regarding acceptability and accessibility of leafy indigenous vegetables to the poor rural and urban dwellers.

Project partners

Cooperation with other subprojects or third parties

  • Universities