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close this bookCulture, Environment, and Food to Prevent Vitamin A Deficiency (International Nutrition Foundation for Developing Countries - INFDC, 1997, 208 pages)
close this folderPart IV. Understanding Vitamin A deficieny in the community
close this folder9. The contexts of culture, environment, and food
View the document(introductory text...)
View the documentOverview
View the documentOverall performance of the protocol
View the documentKeys to finding local community food sources to prevent Vitamin A deficiency: What foods are available and how much vitamin a do they contain?
View the documentKeys to understanding consumption patterns of vulnerable groups
View the documentKeys to beliefs and perceptions about food
View the documentKeys to cultural, ecological and socioeconomic factors that constrain consumption of Vitamin A-rich food and prevention of deficiency
View the documentKeys to explanations and understandings of Vitamin A deficiency symptoms
View the documentLooking to the next steps: From ethnography to intervention design

Keys to finding local community food sources to prevent Vitamin A deficiency: What foods are available and how much vitamin a do they contain?

Keys to understanding the available foods that can be used to prevent vitamin A deficiency are found in the key-informant interviews and the free list of foods, in the market surveys, and in the community food system data tables. In addition, information is found in the background materials on the historical, ecological, and cultural setting for the community food system.

In addition to an examination of vitamin A content (retinol or carotene), food resource data needs to include information on preservation and preparation methods, as these affect nutrient levels. The manual facilitates collection of this type of information. For example, the study report from Niger includes the description of the long cooking processes for leafy vegetables, information that is important for evaluating the food supply as consumed. Studies also should note the sources of data on nutrient composition. Thus, it is useful to find in the report on Sheriguda village that the information in the food system data tables is based on food composition studies that were conducted with the current, advanced method of analysis (HPLC) in national laboratories.

In the field studies, the community food system data tables proved to be a valuable means of summarizing the local situation. Among the Aetas in the Philippines, the table contained 128 food items. One hundred sixty one species are on the list for the periurban site in Peru, with seventy-four in the rural area; thirty-seven species are listed for Filingué, Niger; thirty-five in Doumen village, China; and forty-five for Sheriguda village in India. Although some areas had unidentified species with unknown vitamin A content, vitamin A-rich foods were identified in all the systems. The data tables also provided information on key sources of protein, fat, and other nutrients that are important in the prevention of vitamin A deficiency.

Information on seasonality is obtained from the community food system data tables, market surveys, and key-informant interviews. For example, the study revealed that in Sheriguda village, pumpkin is available only during one short period during the year, while bachali (Basella alba), that is cooked with dahl, is available all year in local gardens, does not have to be purchased, and is an excellent source of carotene. Mango is popular with young children but is available for only two to three months. Papaya has a longer period of availability, but there are cultural barriers to its use (see following section, "Keys to Beliefs and Perceptions About Food").

Several field study reports pointed out the importance of paying special attention to how wild greens and leafy green vegetables are used. These species may be locally regarded as substantive food items or as condiments that are used in much smaller quantities. Greens may be dried and reserved as emergency or famine foods or preserved for use in herbal remedies. It is important to note preparation and preservation techniques. In Sheriguda village, another factor that affects use of greens is whether they are subject to infestation by insects or worms, in which case the food is rejected.

The market survey reports provided a valuable source of data on both availability and price of important food items. As discussed further below, excellent sources of vitamin A-containing foods are found in local markets, but their prices may be prohibitive for those most at risk of deficiency. By including calculations of price-per-serving and the price per 1000 RE, the study provided a perspective on true availability, particularly when the average family daily wage or food expenditure total was known. Liver is a good example; in all five research areas' it was recognized as an excellent food, good for the eyes, and for protecting health. However, it was not available regularly from home animal production, and was not purchased often because of its cost.