What's cooking in Zimbabwe?
I just returned from two wild and wonderful weeks in Zimbabwe. I was able to connect with wildlife, work out with friends, and get a glimpse of life on the amazing continent of Africa. Part of the trip was “business” (this is in quotes because Body & Soul fitness is my passion and leading exercise routines and speaking can hardly be considered work); the other part was pleasure—visiting game parks and animal sanctuaries.
As a health coach and Wise Traditions podcaster, I was naturally very curious about the dietary habits of the people of Zimbabwe. My time was spent primarily in Harare and its immediate environs, so I wasn’t able to look into all of the local diets and customs. However, I can tell you what I noticed while staying with friends and sharing meals together. They showed me, more than told me, about their food habits and what I witnessed warmed my heart.
- Vegetable gardens
- Backdoor chickens (yes, they call them “backdoor” not “backyard” chickens)
- Eggs from said chickens for breakfast (w/ bacon as a side) or hard-boiled eggs for lunch
- Hearty soups made with chicken stock and vegetables for dinner
- Plentiful vegetables (from their own gardens) such as zucchini, squash, spinach
- Home-brewed kombucha and fermented drinks (like kefir) available at farmers markets
- Said-same farmers markets selling fresh organic (or at least local) foods several days a week all around Harare
It was clear that many Zimbabweans were intimately linked to the land. I asked my friends about it and they explained that in 2008 the country hit a devastating low point. The economy tanked. It was at that time that people of every socio-economic class began turning to their own devices for sustenance. They could not rely on produce being kept in stock at their local shops, since imports were down and farms were being overtaken by the government. They had to rely on themselves. This was the year many middle-class and upper middle-class families began planting vegetable gardens and keeping backdoor chickens.
Today, Zimbabwe is still struggling, going through yet another economic crisis. Their currency had devalued so much, every purchase required millions of Zim dollars. The government has issued bond notes recently to stabilize the situation, but cash of any kind is still in short supply. People must wait in long lines in the hopes of getting bond notes or American currency.
Despite the chaos, or maybe because of it, I saw wise traditions at play at virtually every turn. From the most modest residents selling produce by the side of the road, to the more privileged buying it or simply growing their own, it is clear that real food plays an important role in Zimbabwe. “Homemade” and “farm-fresh” are not buzzwords but more of a way of life here.
This is not to say that there are no big food corporations promoting their own products, threatening the real food movement. Fizzy drinks (sodas) are promoted all over the landscape. Billboards tout margarine and vegetable oils as “heart healthy.” Fast food restaurants are marketed as modern and hip.
And yet, the sight of those backdoor chickens, clucking and pecking in every home I visited, gave me hope that wise traditions may still win the day in Zim. Because real food is what's cooking in Zim today!
Hilda Labrada Gore is the producer and host of the Wise Traditions podcast found on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play Music, iHeart Radio, tunein, YouTube and at westonaprice.org. She is the DC metro regional director for Body & Soul Fitness and a certified integrative nutrition health coach. She lives in DC with her husband and children, their cat, Mia, and their dog, Summer.