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Big Food without big diets? Food regimes and Kenyan diets

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Path-breaking scholarship has described how corporate control of food production and distribution is implicated in the global emergence of diets heavy in fats, meats and sugars. The ‘multinational food and beverage companies with huge and concentrated market power’ can be thought of as Big Food. Big Food’s presence in Kenya has expanded, and organizations have expressed concerns about the number of Kenyans who are obese. Despite these concerns, Kenya’s dietary profile does not show a clear picture of high fats, meats and sugars. This suggests that the structural factors that shape the organization of Kenya’s food supply need to be examined. By looking to the food regime approach, it is possible to understand how dietary patterns are a ‘reconstitution of material culture’, as trade arrangements shape diets in ways that make some foods seem traditional, while others appear to be new or exotic. By using the food regime approach, it is possible to understand how Kenya’s position in international trade influences food production and consumption, as well as how the Kenyan state has played a role in mitigating the Big Food diet. In this respect, the policies and practices that organize Kenyan diets are reflective of global-historical arrangements, but are also particular to Kenya. I base my argument on ethnographic research conducted in 2010 and 2014 in urban and rural areas, interviews, FAOSTAT statistics, scholarship, government documents, agency reports, newspapers and relevant food websites.
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Keywords: Big Food; Kenya; diet; food regimes; trade

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Sociology, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada

Publication date: May 27, 2015

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