|Culture, Environment, and Food to Prevent Vitamin A Deficiency (International Nutrition Foundation for Developing Countries - INFDC, 1997, 208 pages)|
|Part IV. Understanding Vitamin A deficieny in the community|
|9. The contexts of culture, environment, and food|
Except under conditions of extreme scarcity, food beliefs play an important role in food selection. The main techniques used in the manual to describe food beliefs are open-ended, key-informant interviews and structured interviews with mother-respondents that use formal ethnographic methods to discover emic categories, food attributes, and qualities.
Some of the food beliefs identified are found across wide culture areas, although they often show considerable intragroup variation as well as locally introduced variation. An example of a widely held belief is the finding from Sheriguda, concerning papaya. Throughout southern India, papaya is seen as a food that causes dysmenorrhea in women and impotence in men. Although it is rich in provitamin A, it is usually not accepted as a suitable food for pregnant or lactating women, infants, or young children. In Sheriguda, papaya is generally available, but consumed only by children four to fifteen years of age. Other beliefs related to vitamin A consumption included: liver is bad for children as it will cause indigestion; eggs are a "hot" food and should be used with caution; and pumpkin is a vatham food, a feature that can cause swelling and indigestion. The attributions or qualities of food in Sheriguda emphasized taste, goodness for health, hot/cold, vatham, giving strength, used for festivals, causing diarrhea or cough, increases blood, and generally not good for the body.
In the Peruvian rural area (Chamis) and in periurban San Vicente, the hot or cold humoral system continues to be important in structuring food beliefs. Foods are designated as caliente (hot) or fresco (cool). Caliente foods include vitamin A-rich items, including green herbs, while fruits are generally fresco. Sweet potato and carrot are neutral. Other important attributes of food in Chamis include giving strength, good taste, causing indigestion, and causing diarrhea. In San Vicente the attribute of good nutrition is recognized, and for children included such foods as eggs, cow's milk, breastmilk, carrot, sweet potato, papaya, and mango. Other attributes included "combatting weakness" and "good taste."
While the sites differed with respect to the literacy level of the mother-respondents, the techniques for identifying food attributes and qualities performed well in all of them. In Filingué, Niger, the attributes of animal foods included the concepts of strengthening, fattening, healthful, and blood-rich. Some foods were designated that make children feel good, are tasty, or vitamin-rich. In Doumen village people identified food as tasty, prestigious, nutritious, healthful, and filling. In selecting vegetables, beans, and meats, the main attributes of concern were price and taste. For staple foods (noodles, rice, steamed bread), filling and taste were both important. Commonly-held beliefs included the capacity of foods to impart their characteristics to the individuals who consume them. For example, it was thought that eating rabbit meat might cause a child to have a mouth and lips like a rabbit.
Among the Aetas, the concept of richness emerged as a quality of concern with respect to food. People suggested that if one eats rich food they will become spoiled and want it all the time; therefore, moderation is encouraged, except during feasts. Other food attributes included: strength-giving, filling, tasty, healthful, expensive, and prestigious. Some foods are characterized as delicious, nutritious, good for mother/child, good for the eyes, good for the blood, and for increasing breastmilk.