Global dynamics and empowerment of the local street food network: a case study on the Ghana Traditional Caterers Association

By Hilde-Marije Dorresteijn, MSc International Development Studies at Wageningen University

For my MSc thesis within the RSO chair group I did research on street food in Ghana. During the master programme I became more and more interested in food issues and its possibilities for local development. These possibilities are beautifully illustrated by the following quotation with which I started my thesis:

“Food provides an answer. Our landscapes and cities were shaped by food. Our daily routine revolves around it, our politics and economies are driven by it, our identities are inseparable from it, and our survival depends on it. What better tool, then, with which to shape the world.” (Steel, 2012 in Viljoen & Wiskerke, 2012:36).

HM Dorresteijn blog picture 1

Despite its importance I found little scientific research on street food, a phenomenon that is particularly relevant in developing countries. Street food can be defined as: ‘ready to eat food or beverages prepared and/or sold in the street and other public places for immediate consumption or at a later time without further processing or preparation’ (FAO, 2012). I decided to look into this topic within the context of Ghana’s capital Accra. An estimated 85% of the urban population in Ghana patronize it, cutting across socio-economic boundaries and thus also designating the important cultural role of street food In Accra, from early morning till late at night all sorts of food are being sold on the streets. Also, there is a great variety in the professionalism of microenterprises. There are many hawkers walking around trying to sell their products, well established enterprises that have fixed stands and seating facilities, and the informal eating houses called ‘chop bars’. Street food make an essential contribution to nutrition of the urban population by providing easily accessible and affordable food, as well as they provide a good livelihood strategy by creating employment and increasing incomes for a large number of urban dwellers. Hereby street food thus makes a great contribution to the local economy. This informal sector requires low start-up capital and low levels of education are needed, making it a good business opportunity for especially women.

The cheapest way to make money, is to cook food. You are a secretary, or you have a shop, and the shop collapses. You can buy a pot, buy silver, cooking utensils, buy water, the pepper, yam and you cook and you’ll get people to buy. Very, very cheap. So day in day out people have been coming into the system. That is why they are plenty. And automatically when you cook, you will get people to buy.” (Mr. Ansong, PRO GTCA, 13 Jan. 2014) Continue reading

(Un)accepted foods: Why are some edible substances considered food and others not?

My Little Pony Burger

Last night Stichting Ruw hosted an event on “(Un)accepted Foods”.

The goal of the evening was to learn more about the potential of insects as food and about eating unconventional food products like horse and goose meat. 

There were excellent presentations.

Rob Hagenouw, an artist, spoke about his project Keuken van het Ongewenst Dier(Kitchen of the Unwanted Animal) where they make and sell  “My Little Pony Burgers” and croquettes from geese shot at the airport.

Arnold van Huis, author of ‘The Insect Cookbook’ and Professor of Entomology (see his TED talk here) gave a fascinating talk covering the opportunities and challenges association with the development of an insect eating culture in Europe.

Jessica Duncan, from the Rural Sociology Group, provided a socio-cultural perspective on food categorisation: why are some edible substances considered food and others not. The presentation is available here.

PUREFOOD conference teaser – The many benefits of local food

On May 14 and 15 2014 the PUREFOOD conference entitled “Take action? Collaborative action for more sustainable food systems” will take place in Utrecht (The Netherlands). The morning of the first day (Wednesday May 14) will take place in the Central Museum of Utrecht and consists of three inspirational presentations followed by a reflection by keynote listener Professor Tim Lang and discussions in workshops. In the afternoon there will be three excursions to urban and peri-urban agriculture and food initiatives in and around Utrecht.

The second day of the conference (Thursday May 15) will take place in DeFabrique in Utrecht. This second day is a joint event of PUREFOOD and the Day of Urban Farming, with a keynote speech by Claus Meyer (founder of the New Nordic Cuisine movement and co-owner of restaurant Noma in Copenhagen, which is considered to be the world’s best restaurant) and a wide variety of parallel workshops. For more information see the conference program.

As a teaser for the PUREFOOD conference Creative Beards has made a short animation movie addressing the main issues that have been studied in PUREFOOD.

Tip of the iceberg

This weekend I gave a lecture twice in ‘Het Klooster’ (The Convent) at Oerol, a famous week-long festival with theatre, performance and music at 63 locations on the Wadden Island Terschelling. Het Klooster features at Oerol this year and in its full capacity next year. The Dutch State Forestry Commission (Staatsbosbeheer) Firma Rieks Swarte and Peergroup will remove the topsoil of lines drawn at a field this year. The lines represent the layout of the Convent of St Gall, a detailed model from the 8th C for a monastery that was never built but nevertheless served as a ‘roadmap’ for many convents all over Europe in the middle-ages. Removal of top soil will give older seeds of rare species a chance while the map will be visible from a tower in the middle of the field and will be part of a theatre show at next year’s Oerol.

IMG_0208What if the monastery was built at Terschelling? The geometric beauty and symbolism of the design is what fascinates Rieks, how man organises man is what fascinates the PeerGroup, and in line with that, what did they eat? That’s where I came in. Food culture before the invention of the printed book in the 15th C is always surrounded with many doubts and insecurities for lack of evidence. But in the case of Convent of St Gall, everything within the walls (a village almost) was detailed to the point of which herbs were grown in the herbal medicine garden. It was fascinating to see the books in which the plan has been studied. My earlier doubts based on other historical sources about how realistic this design would be in practice were confirmed.

One small example; the vegetable garden was divided in 2 x 9 beds of equal size with 1 vegetable planned for each bed. This then meant that cabbage received equal space to dill and that unions were occupying one bed whereas chervil a complete other. While the vegetable garden as a whole was far to small to feed the approx 200 people who would live there (where did we hear that discussion lately?), it seems highly impractical to have as many lettuces as poppy, unless they had a good use for poppy of course……..

Food at the battefields

This 6th and last lecturing period of the year, I run a capita selecta course on Food Culture with some of the students from the regular course in February in which we read and discuss classics in food culture together. Like two years ago, there is a small but dedicated group of students eager to read entire books rather than the usual scientific papers. We just finished ‘Paradox of the Plenty’ by Harvey Levenstein, a very dense but easy and often funny to read social history of eating in the U.S. spanning from 1920s to about the 1990s. One of the stories to which we awed with amazement is about the abundance, diversity and quality of the food supply and diet of American soldiers during World War II. Continue reading

Job opening: Assistant / Associate Professor in Food Sociology (tenure track position)

The Rural Sociology Group of Wageningen University is looking for an assistant or associate professor in food sociology. As an assistant / associate professor you will teach and coordinate Bachelor and Master courses for the Bachelor and Master program International Development Studies (specialization Sociology of Development), the Master program Health and Society and for the Master program Food Technology (specialization Gastronomy), and supervise Master thesis research for these programmes. You will undertake independent research and participate in (and coordinate) international research projects, specifically focusing on food provisioning in urbanizing societies and on the relations between food and public health, social equity and sustainable urban and regional development. Other aspects of the job include project acquisition, training and supervision of PhD students and participation in various research and/or education committees.


We ask

  • A PhD degree in (rural) sociology, food policy, social/human geography or related social science discipline;
  • An inspiring vision on sustainable food provisioning in urban and metropolitan regions;
  • Considerable experience with agro-food research, proven by publications in key international journals, and preferably in the fields of food culture, alternative food networks, urban food strategies and/or public food procurement;
  • A relevant international network;
  • Good didactic qualities and the capacity to motivate students (candidates will be required to follow the Learning and Teaching in Higher Education Programme (LTHEP, in Dutch referred to as BKO), a system adopted by all Dutch universities);
  • Excellent writing skills;
  • Good management skills;
  • Fluent in English;
  • Preferably a proven record in acquisition of research projects;

To be considered for an Associate Professorship, substantial teaching experience, proven didactic qualities, publications in leading journals and a proven record in acquisition of research projects and supervision of PhD students are prerequisites.


We offer

A challenging career trajectory called Tenure Track. From the position of Assistant Professor or Associate Professor you can eventually grow into the position of a Professor holding a Personal Chair. Of course training and coaching are provided and interdisciplinary (international) cooperation is stimulated. You will also be given the chance to build up your own research line.

We offer you a temporary contract for three years (0.8 – 1.0 fte), which can lead to a permanent employment contract. Gross salary:

  • Assistant professor: from € 3227 to € 4418 (Scale 11 CAO Dutch Universities), based on full time (1,0 fte) employment and dependent on expertise and experience.
  • Associate professor: from € 4472 to € 5444 (Scale 13 CAO Dutch Universities), based on full time (1,0 fte) employment and dependent on expertise and experience.

For more information about Tenure Track within Wageningen UR look at


Additional information

Additional information about the vacancy can be obtained from:

Prof. dr. ir J.S.C. Wiskerke, Chair of Rural Sociology Telephone number: +31 317 482679/4507 E-mail address:



To apply, please upload your letter of motivation and your CV, including a list of publications via the online application button on the Wageningen University vacancy webpage before June 17 2013. You will receive an automatic e-mail confirmation within 24 hours.

PUREFOOD Winter School in Barcelona

Press Release:

Building bridges: The PUREFOOD event “Beyond Divides: An International Winter School and Forum on Contemporary Agri-Food Issues” forges network, debate and learning

Barcelona, 12 to 22 November 2012

By Leah Ashe

The PUREFOOD Network and the Food and Nutrition Observatory of the University of Barcelona played host to the international winter school ‘Beyond Divides: An International Forum on Contemporary Agri-Food Issues”, held in Barcelona from the 12th through the 22nd of November, 2012. The event featured contributions of leading international scholars including Professors Patricia Allen (Marylhurst College, USA), Michael K. Goodman (King’s College, UK), James Kirwan (Countryside and Community Research Institute, UK) and Jesús Contreras (Universitat de Barcelona, Spain). With a mission of fomenting debate, exchange and collaboration, the forum featured various opportunities and learning formats, including thematic panels and roundtables on contemporary themes such as food justice, alternative food networks, food and nutrition security, tradition and innovation. Continue reading

Tasteful waste

Earlier this month, we had a fun food culture class on the topic of waste and edibility. The writing of Mary Douglas on Purity and Danger was useful in order to think about how the definition of ‘waste’ is in fact a social construction which depends on social relations and thus varies from context to context. We looked at the various stages in the cycle from production to consumption where ‘waste’ is created by some, but sometimes turned into food by others. Waste, or ‘dirt’ in the words of Mary Douglas, is ‘matter out of place’. For a thing to become out of place, there needs to be an order with normalities such as, when a food is beyond its expiration date in a supermarket it will be thrown away. Anomaly then is all that does not fit the order (or who order differently). Examples are gleaning practices on agricultural fields, food collection for food banks and dumpster diving in retail waste.

Continue reading

Hidden qualities of bean sprouts

What do oysters, chocolate, caviar, figs and champagne have in common? They are among the most famous food aphrodisiacs. From a Western (historical) perspective though. There are completely other aphrodisiacs. Be careful with bean sprouts for example. While sharing food and stories in the Food Culture class, we learnt it can bring you sons… Continue reading

Cola-chicken and slaughtherhouse meat

In this 6th period of the academic year, I run a second course on Food Culture with similar topics as the course in February but with other teaching methods. The group is smaller, the period is longer and we can thus engage with the literature in a different way. One of the assignments in the course is the Food Assignment, where we have twice a lunch together based on brought food by half of the student group. A few weeks ago we had the first lunch and I was surprised how interesting it turned out in terms of food culture in practice.


source:travelpod blog

One of the Chinese students came with a dish he claimed as common and even widespread made in China, which has also very strong regional cuisines. He presented chicken cooked in cola. Lots of us present were first unclear if he really meant, cola, the soft drink. Indeed, this is what he meant and we could clearly taste the cola in the chicken meat. When searching the internet I found numerous examples of chicken-cola recipes, such as this one. 

Our ignorance and thus astonishment about this dish, just turned into the next astonishment when the type of meat was discussed. This student used chicken drumsticks whereas he actually needed chicken wings. But he hadn’t been able to find these in the supermarket. The Vietnamese student replied that she always bought meat at the nearby slaughterhouse. Again, eyes widened, especially among the Dutch students. Was she referring to the butcher or indeed meaning the slaughterhouse?  After asserting there was no Babylonian confusion of tongues, we were curious as to where then, this slaughterhouse is located. It turned out to be a small slaughterhouse in Opheusden within 15 kilometers from Wageningen, where it was possible to buy specific qualities and cuts of meat if sufficient quantity was bought. Hence, the Vietnamese students organise a collective order every now and then. I had no idea.