food

Enough to Eat

“If I had money, I’d record
albums of the calls of children begging
their meals in the street. I’d address
books to all the rich people, to let them know that
in this world live millions of humans
who don’t have the rags that they burn.”
—Richard Dogbeh, Beninese Poet

Togo, 2010

Two women walk along the road in front of in colorfully patterned, matching pagne cloth. Assuming I don’t speak their language, one turns and brings one hand to her mouth as if eating. I respond, “Moi aussi, j’ai faim.” And the women laugh and look at one another. What a stupid yovo, if she with her white skin and privilege can’t find anything to eat! I guess we are not so bad off after all.

My own nighttime musing:

Legs under mosquito net
Every evening
slightly slimmer

Could losing weight
be one good thing about
this hunger
this heat?

I talk with a Togolese friend about whether my “hunger,” my stomach grumbling and losing weight from not having easy access to food options that appeal to me, feels any different from the hunger experienced by impoverished Africans. Unlike many locals, of course, I have the financial means to purchase food items; I am not at risk of starving. “I’m not sure,” he says, “but we are used to suffering here. Look around and you can be sure that some of the people you see haven’t eaten in a couple of days.”

No Dessert

Girl eating Togolese staple food “pâte.”

Dessert? Some people have never even heard of it. This 4.5-minute radio piece examines the cultural relativity of this sweet, after-meal food practice by contrasting views on dessert from the United States and Togo, West Africa. It aired on AARP’s Prime Time Postscript in 2012.

More Background:

I created this piece shortly after my return from Togo, West Africa, where I had been serving as a Girls’ Education and Empowerment volunteer with the Peace Corps. In Togo, there was very little variety in food choices, just mainly a staple starch food called pâte, made from corn flour and water, and served with some kind of sauce. In particular, I was struck by the lack of dessert in Togolese food culture. In other countries I’d lived in, such as Chile and Azerbaijan, there was no tradition of dessert either, but at least there were sweets — they were just eaten at other times of day, rather than directly after the meal.

“No Dessert ” (4:12) takes a humorous tone to tackle themes of guilt and greed within the subject of food and culture. The idea for this piece came to me as I was trying to make sense of the strikingly different food practices that awaited me upon my return to the US. After living in less economically developed areas, it is sometimes hard not to see the American tendency to overeat and have lots of sweets as unfair in some way when so many others eat just to sustain themselves. My intention was to investigate the topic of dessert and make people more aware of their own dessert culture and food choices.

The Togolese person I am interviewing is Catherine Talim, a librarian and my counterpart teacher and co-leader of my Girls’ Club at the local middle school in Kanté.