Good Food, Ridiculous Diets, and a Well Fed Swahili: British Approaches to Food in Colonial Zanzibari Institutions,

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Introduction. Food has important symbolic value in addition to its more tangible and obvious nutritional value. Studies of food in Africa have focused on food as nutrition or a commodity, with relatively little attention to the aesthetics of food or its broader cultural significance. Food can be a revealing entry point to learn about individuals and society. The cultural and contextual aspects of food are brought into stark relief in institutions such as prisons and asylums, where menus are set, personal preferences are ignored, and food becomes the source of much disagreement. This paper highlights the discussions, debates, and disagreements over institutional diets among members of the British colonial corps in Zanzibar. I argue that between 1935 and 1945 the process of creating diets for institutions was chaotic. There was no clear policy or approach to guide either the creation of a new diet or the modification of an existing diet. Thus, a multitude of competing ideas flourished. Ideological chasms were exposed concerning the purpose of institutions and even the duties of the colonial government to its subjects. This paper will show that investigating diet creation and policies provides insights not only into food, but also colonial policy creation (chaotic), colonial mission (unclear), and the diversity of opinion existing within the colonial corps. It also calls into question the accuracy of talking in terms of “the” or “a” colonial approach.