“Food” for Thought-CKY Corner's Final Week

Andrea DiPalma Yansane
February 27, 2022

Here in the United States where industrial agriculture and factory farming are the norm, online grocery shopping is prevalent, and the phenomena of supermarkets is alive and well it can be easy to food availability take for granted. This in turn makes it easy to underestimate just how central food is in shaping culture and therefore why we thought it important to address this topic in the final week of our online series, “CKY Corner”. It is not just the actual cuisine, but the access to sources of food that shape Guinean culture in profound ways so it’s important to make that distinction and talk about each separately.

Before diving into those two key factors, it’s worth mentioning some fundamental characteristics of Guinean family structure and gender roles. In Guinea, the women oversee the household which includes attending to all aspects of food preparation including shopping, cooking, dividing up, and distributing food to the family. The average Guinean family lives together in intergenerational households where grandparents, parents, and children all reside within the same home, share food, and operate under the family system. The premise of the family system is that those who can contribute monetarily to the family do so and those who cannot are provided for. Due to Guinea’s poor economy and high unemployment rates, it usually works out that a minority of family members provide for the majority of their family.

Let’s go back to the issue of food access in Guinea and how it informs culture. Rather than shopping in bulk and stocking a pantry for a week’s worth of meals like most of us do here in the US, Guinean women go to the market on a daily basis and only buy and cook food for that particular day. These daily trips to the outdoor markets are typically done on foot which limits the amounts of food which can be carried by hand as well as limiting shoppers to smaller, local markets within walking distance. This in turn leads to two different cultural phenomena which play a part in the social and cultural fabric of Guinean society: strong, female neighborhood social groups and street food. It is not difficult to extrapolate that the daily ritual of walking to the market with neighbors creates strong, social bonds. The phenomena of street food, however, may not be as obvious, but is super important because it provides women a means to make a few extra bucks as well as creates a very active and vibrant street scene, especially at night. Saying “a few extra bucks” is, in most cases no understatement since the profit margins of these cottage food operations are very small and the value of Guinean currency is very low. Despite these minimal gains, street food pop ups create the opportunity for women to have cash in hand, some autonomy and agency, and a respectable place in their communities’ night life. It also provides dinner options and snacks for those that can afford something supplemental to the mid-day meal of rice and sauce.

One issue of food access that dovetails into the subject of cuisine is how the availability of certain ingredients dictate the dishes that can be prepared. Imported produce and meat, for example, are unavailable or cost prohibitive. Market goers will only find fresh fruits and vegetables, even fish that are in season. Also, except in the case of tomatoes where both Roma and slicing varieties are available there is only one variety of each staple produce items like onions, carrots, cassava root, lettuce, and cucumbers, for example. We know that a lack of biodiversity can lead to scarcity and it is no different in this case.

Despite all of those limiting factors Guinean cuisine has a robust selection of sumptuous dishes that center around the fundamental element of rice and sauce, but, are in no means limited to just that. Our corresponding pictures and video clips that will go live this week on FB and IG will, pardon the pun, give viewers a taste of some of these traditional dishes that not only provide cultural influences, but food fantasies for all Guinean ex-pats who cannot come by all the necessary ingredients to recreate these dishes away from their country of birth.

Because fish is such a mainstay in Guinean cuisine and because there are so many different varieties caught right off the coast that surrounds more than 75% of the Conakry peninsula, we had to feature videos that showcase fish. In this week’s “CKY Corner” Series entitled “Food for Thought” we feature our neighbor, Aminata who sold fish as a trade and would bring samples directly to our house. She would wake up at the crack of dawn six days a week to go down to the nearest port and get the best selection from the catch of the day which are seen in these video clips. Check them out on FB and IG and leave comments to let us know your impressions or questions! Posts will go live Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday this week around 7 pm and we sincerely hope that watching them will provide you with some excellent food for thought!