Is there a "complementary feeding cultural core" in rural Kenya? Results from ethnographic research in five counties


This investigation used data from focused ethnographic studies in five rural counties in Kenya to determine whether the concept of “special foods for infants and young children” exists in the different ethnic groups in these areas as an identifiable component of cultural beliefs and knowledge, as well as in practice, and whether they can be characterized as a “complementary feeding cultural core.” The concept of “cultural core foods” refers to the set of foods that have a central role in diets of a population and, as a consequence, also have significant social and emotional components. We used the ethnographic cognitive mapping technique of “free listing” and a qualitative 24‐hr recall of infants and young children (IYC) intake, with probing, to obtain data on caregivers' beliefs and behaviours.

The results show that an IYC cultural food core can be identified in all of the counties. A related finding that supports the argument for an “IYC cultural core” with respect to appropriate foods for IYC is the clear cognitive consensus within sites about its content, although in practice, food insecurity and food shortage constrain household abilities to put their beliefs into practice. We conclude that interventions to improve IYC feeding in rural Kenya that build on the concept of “IYC cultural core foods” will be congruent with basic cultural ideas about managing IYC feeding and could take advantage of this cultural feature.

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