Intra-community variation in cooking patterns and nutritional implications among the Tikar of northwest Cameroon
Relatively little is known about the critical relationships between nutrition and culture in Africa, where malnutrition has reached staggering proportions. Poverty plays a big part; however, not all poor people suffer from nutritional deficiencies. In an effort to understand how poverty leads to malnutrition in specific cultural settings and how in the face of poverty adequate nutrition is achieved in other settings, this research focuses on the role of women as actors in the nutritional system. The research objectives were: to determine (1) how women's food processing and preparation practices vary in a semi-subsistence agricultural village and (2) if this variance affects nutritional status. To meet these objectives, the nature and extent of intra-community variation in cooking patterns were determined; nutritional status at the household level was assessed; and relationships between cooking patterns and nutrition were ascertained. Methods included survey instruments to gather data on demographics, food availability and use, and food preparation strategies. In addition the twenty-four-hour recall method was used to document meal variety during both the wet and dry seasons, and anthropometry was conducted to determine the nutritional status of household members. Finally, participant observation and key-informant interviewing were used to determine the ethnographic context of cooking and to check the accuracy of survey data. Data analysis revealed that although there were differences in cooking patterns among village cooks, these differences were small and in almost half of the households where anthropometry was conducted at least one person showed signs of poor nutrition. It was found that differences in cooking patterns, in general, do not significantly contribute to malnutrition. Rather, poor nutritional status is likely to occur if cooks have more than one child in the household under the age of five (child-dependency ratio); if cash is not available or simply not expended on beef during the wet season (available cash and/or consumer spending patterns); and if children under the age of five years do not receive an equitable share of available household foods (child-family deficit). In conclusion, these factors--not cooking patterns--contribute to malnutrition in this setting.