An Approach to the Food Habits of Three Communities in Timor-Leste

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Care International Timor-Leste
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This report is the outcome of a 29 day consultancy with CARE International in Timor-Leste (CITL) for the food security and nutrition program, funded by Hadia Agricultura no Nutrisuan [Improving Agriculture and Nutrition] (HAN) and “Promoting Healthy Lives” (PROMISE). Since 2010, CITL has been implementing the EU funded HAN project in the districts of Ermera, Liquiçá and Bobonaro. These are considered to be the most food insecure districts in the country. HAN has been working with approximately 2,800 food-insecure households in order to address the inter-related issues of food availability, access, use, as well as resilience to natural disasters. Approaches have included interventions in agriculture and farming to improve productivity, facilitating people’s access to markets, development of financial services to generate income, improvement of dietary practices and health services, community based disaster management to improve better year round food security. In December 2012, the Norwegian-funded health program PROMISE was established to improve health and nutrition within the poorest households of Ermera and Liquiçá districts. PROMISE has been working with the HAN project to achieve the first Millennium Development Goal (MDG) by enhancing practices in the areas of maternal and child health, sanitation and hygiene, as well as improving production and daily consumption of nutritious food at the household level. CITL commissioned this consultancy which has the aim of uncovering social factors, traditional and cultural practices, behaviors and believes related to food use and consumption that might be affecting the nutritional status of the most vulnerable people in the area of study. The study was implemented in the CITL area of intervention, specifically in two sukus in Liquiçá district, Dato and Asumanu, and one in Ermera district in the suku of Malabe The study analyses some semantic aspects related to food; the valorization of food items and how food choices are based on them; local knowledge-based taxonomies (folk taxonomies) and the relationship between food belief systems. This analysis is predominantly drawn from key case studies that will be discussed in the following sections and allow the reader to get a glimpse of the extreme complexities surrounding food systems in Timor-Leste. This report will highlight the following culturally-linked themes governing food habits in Timor-Leste: social status is linked to food; there exists an underlying classificatory binary system: “hot”/”cold”, “hard”/“soft” which is related to human biology and social development and ultimately makes up an ethno-medical system; there are lineage-related taboos governing food choices, and finally, the regime of consuming animal meat during rituals drives food production.
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