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Call for Papers: Food in the Africas; environment and health at the core of contemporary global changes

Chantal Crenn, Isabelle Gobatto, Abdourahmane Ndiaye, Laurence Tibère, Moustapha Seye and Abdou Ka

Editor's notes

Chantal CRENN, MCF-HDR, Université de Bordeaux Montaigne, UMR 5319 Passages

Isabelle GOBATTO, MCF-HDR, Université de Bordeaux, UMR 5319 Passages

Abdourahmane NDIAYE, MCF, Université Bordeaux Montaigne, UMR 5319 Passages

Laurence TIBERE, MCF-HDR, Université de Toulouse Jean Jaurès, Certop-CNRS CNRS UMR5044

Moustapha SEYE, CR, Université Cheikh Anta Diop De Dakar, Institut Fondamental d'Afrique Noire Ch. A. Diop, LARTES-IFAN

Abdou KA, anthropologue de l'alimentation, Université Assane Seck de Ziguinchor, UMI 3189 Environnement, Santé, Sociétés.

Thinking ecologically about food reminds us that « eating is an agricultural act (enfing) the annual drama of the food economy that begins with planting and birth » (Berry, W. 1992)

At a time of global social and environmental changes (Blanc, Demeulenaere, Feuerhahn 2017), we thought it essential to propose a call for papers devoted to food practices and representations in Africa in the 21st century. More precisely, we wish to produce an issue dealing with food in relation to health and well-being, from the seed to the bowl, soil and refuse, that will place consumers, activists, traders, eaters, producers, carers and patients at the centre of the reflection. In effect, the context of climate changes, biodiversity crisis and population increase (that we will call environmental transformations), alongside with health preoccupations, lead us to take a closer look: how do individuals use food in the construction of their relations to one another, humans and non-humans, and how do they place themselves socially, politically, culturally in both urban and rural African societies in the face of contemporary food changes, while awareness is spreading of a global food and sanitary interdependence, with its limits (Milne 2013)?

Although we won’t retrace here the detailed history of researches on food in African societies (Richards 1939), we can establish that during the 20th century, the themes of “nutrition” and “agricultural profitability” have been paramount (Moore & Vaughan 1994). After numerous colonial, post-colonial and pro-independence peregrinations where French, British, Senegalese researchers in social sciences in particular (Shipton 1990, Gladwin 1991) have swung between the desire for applied science - to eradicate hunger - (Froment, De Garine et al. 1996) and the denunciation of domination (Touré 1982) and therefore in favour of complete withdrawal (Bessis 1979, Comité Sahel 1975), daily food practices were finally addressed as a scientific object (Anigbo 1987, de Waal A. 1989). Because of the hegemonic theoretical paradigm of the time however -mainly structuralism - and along with what the British anthropologist Jack Goody (1982) observed, the supernatural, symbolic and ritual functions of food were mainly taken into account, while historical and contextual dimensions (meaning the production/ distribution/ preparation/ consumption chain) were being left out. Yet Jack Goody was more interested in understanding how, in Ghana, differentiated culinary cultures emerged because of the diversity of socio-economic structures, rather than analysing within them the eaters’ individual itineraries. Following Mintz, J. Goody linked food in Ghana (and in western Africa in general) to the economic domination of the North (Touré 1982) both in terms of pillage of natural resources and outlet for manufactured products, well before Anna Tsing’s well publicised book (2017) – how stimulating and predictive was Jack Goody’s reflection in the light of the current environmental situation. And yet the subject of food was still not analysed from the individuals’ point of view. Years later, researches, which were often embedded in the Marxist paradigm, shifted from the theme of food security in African metropolis (Guyer 1987) to the theme of changes leading to dietary transition leading to the subject of the emergence and treatment of chronic diseases. For this reason, numerous epidemiologists link the development of diabetes and hypertension to the westernisation of diets. And we still do not know much about the way such food and environmental changes are lived on a daily basis, considering they have direct effects on the body, the imaginary, life plans, while abundance and scarcity cohabit. In fine Charles Édouard de Suremain (2009) supports (strengthens) our assessment. To him, the subject of food – contrasting with the subject of health – at the beginning of the 2000s, remains very little studied from anthropological and sociological perspectives, particularly in West Africa.

Nevertheless, it must be noted that during the past 10 years, all disciplines taken together, the theme of food – from farm to bowl- has generated works that show a significant shift in this field of research (Nukunya 2003, De Suremain & Razy 2008, Ndao 2009, Tuomainen 2009, Crenn et al. 2010, Louveau 2011, Gobatto & Tijou-Traoré 2011a et b, Le Port 2017, Ka 2016, Crenn & Hassoun 2014 (2018), Delavigne 2011, Manoli & Ancey 2014, Bricas et al. 2018, Leport & Tibère 2018, Bonnecase, Soula Yount-André, Lepillier, Bricas 2020).

Such works have highlighted the diversity of situations and practices outside of transitional or standardizing models. These researches do not only account for the diversity of subjects examined but also for the researchers’ emancipation from the theoretical paradigms indicated above. Eaters, professionals, patients, actors, are now at the heart of the investigations. As noted by Jean-Pierre Hassoun in the Preface of the book Manger en ville, researchers today are “concerned with the depiction of the history of a dish, or with the evolution of urban restauration in an African city” (Hassoun 2020: 8) - rather than with the social and cultural determinants, should we add. Even food products, like Céline Lesourd (2019) showed in a stimulating way concerning khat (“amphetamine” plant grown in the Horn of Africa and sold all over the world), have become research objects, whose “social life” is being observed.

However, although the inhabitants of African societies did not wait until the last few years for making the most of environmental changes, concretely and intimately, as shown in works by Greta Gaard & Lori Gruen (2003), Pierre Janin (2010) or Véronique Ancey (2014), we still feel today that a fine-scale and comprehensive assessment is lacking concerning the way such changes are being thought and experienced by individuals, men and women, eaters, and all those who take part in foodscapes.

Expected articles should thus not only report on the acts of producing, cooking or eating, as this has already been done, but they should take into account all the persons composing the foodscape (Dolphijn 2004) and the social food spaces (Poulain 2002) in Africa – people who cultivate, fish, feed, care, alert to perceived risks, militate, research, etc. in countries who still suffer from the heritage of colonial domination that has durably degraded their environment (Davis 2006).

Between dependence to market and environmental preoccupations: what daily food practices?

Practices and representations of environmental changes based on the observation of individuals’ ordinary food spheres will be at the core of proposed papers (markets, restaurants, street food, etc.). Cities are not the only places where global changes can be observed; articles focusing on situations in rural areas will also be welcome. The same goes for articles reporting on the daily fare of NGOs, international institutions or local associations in charge of food and environmental issues. They will help to understand the making of norms from the point of view of individual biographies, of real life based intimate relations (Muller 2012) - not only of institutional logics.

Empty stomach, too full a stomach: when eating is a problem.

This AoFood issue intends to depart from the analysis of food changes from the sole angle of health “transition” or traditionalism, which do not tell us much about the multiple daily situations that individuals meet today, particularly concerning chronic and non-transmissible diseases linked to food – diabetes, hypertension, obesity… In this area, many aspects are still to be documented and analysed, especially when it comes to the reconfiguration of personal experiences (Gobatto 2018) and of knowledge (ethnosciences, biomedicine) relative to the diseases developing in conjunction with food practices, both among health professionals and within families.

Travelling shopping bags, how ideas and goods journey to and from the Africas and the rest of the world : “well-being”, consumption and ecologism…

Along with Achille Membe (2010) or Michel Agier (2013) when they consider that today adopting a decentred stance is essential for contemporary research in social sciences concerning Africa, this AoFood issue will appreciate proposals that will capture, from the African continent, in what way new practices of consumption, production, care, contestation, feeling, well-being, from multiple local references and/or coming from outside (abroad), are invented and travel.

The coordinators of this issue come from various social and geographical backgrounds, mostly from West Africa, and therefore reflect the will to multiply perspectives in terms of gender, age and nationality. It is expected that fieldwork methodologies will be exposed thoroughly, along with the reflexive attitude of the researchers with regard to the evolution of theoretical paradigms of the food-environment-health theme.

In line with the three points detailed above, the journal AoFood invites all contributors to submit articles on food in Africa, departing from stereotypes about traditionalism versus westernisation, hunger and malnutrition versus overnutrition or agriculture backwardness, that do not explain how today African populations invent new forms of eating and, concurrently, new connections to health and the environment.

The purpose of this issue of Anthropology of Food is to highlight current topical issues. For instance:

How do eaters, farmers, fishermen, merchants, agrofood-industries perceive their food daily fare, their place in global changing foodscapes?

In the face of global changes, how do ecological and social transformations impact daily food practices? Are political and identity assertions to be observed (land and sea grabbing contestations, quest for environmental justice, ecofeminism)?

Is it possible to detect seeds of sovereignty in the current expression of food and environmental issues and actions by consumers and producers?

Who started resistance movements against the diverse forms of hoarding, spoliation of resources, pollution and environmental damage? What are their biographies?

Beyond social preoccupations that focus increasingly on health and the body, and the urge for food sovereignty, what are real-life practices and imaginaries? Can we talk of the quest for well-being?

Or when considering health through food: are new experts emerging, such as dieticians, nutritionists, healers? What are the modes of production and circulation of knowledge in relation to health?

More subjectively, what do eaters, producers, consumers, activists, patients aspire to through their current food choices, considering that they are caught up in various normative injunctions? In what way are they creative? How do they resist?

When hunger is still a preoccupation in people’s minds and stomachs, how are environmental issues experienced and addressed concretely?

How do religions seize global change issues and with what impact on their followers’ food practices?

How do transformations of the environment and of the value system shed light on the “food transition” – a notion in progress to be questioned?

Deadline for sending your proposal (title and abstract, between 4000 and 6000 characters including references) is June 30th 2020. Abstracts should indicate the methodology, discipline, type of data and form of investigation, and the main problematic, which may evolve in the final article. Methodological issues may also be at the heart of the problematic. Proposals and articles may be written in French, English or Spanish.

Please send your proposal to all coordinators:,,,

Information concerning the selection will be sent to authors by the end of July 2020.

If your proposal is accepted, the expected articles will have to conform to the AoFood Guidelines for authors ( ), between 6000 and 8000 words maximum, spaces, notes and bibliography included) and sent to us before Decembre 31th 2020. This issue is expected to be published in July 2021.


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