“In preserving our food traditions, we safeguard our culture—ensuring that the flavors of our past continues to enrich the present while nurturing the sustenance of generations to come. Each recipe passed down is a thread woven into the tapestry of our community’s resilience and continuity. It is a commitment to nourish not only our bodies but our souls.”
– Olajumoke Okeola, NutriHome Project Leader and Slow Food activist
Fast food has long been a main mode of consumption in the Nigerian city of Ibadan, especially among its Indigenous Yoruba culture. From the stalls of its street food vendors emanate a rich array of aromas: those of akara (fried bean cakes) eko gbigbona (hot maize gruel), eko jije (solid maize loaves) isu sise ati sisun (boiled and roasted yam) and dodo (fried plantain).
But the acceleration of Ibadan’s urbanization has brought a change in the dietary habits of its inhabitants, particularly the city’s youth. And recent years have seen many foreign fast food saturate Ibadan’s indigenous food culture. Familiar international fast food items like hot dogs and hamburgers are now commonplace, having come to represent signifiers of class, status and wealth. Their acceptance among the city’s youth is driven by convenience and modern appeal, but this shift in consumption habits brings a number of problems.
Increased fast food consumption has led to a rise in adverse health concerns and a disconnect from locally-sourced nutritional produce. But less tangibly (and less immediate), it is also diluting Ibadan’s indigenous food culture as traditional recipes fall by the wayside, replaced by fast food and processed snacks.
Project NutriHome promises to combat this, tackling the city’s dwindling biodiversity by establishing a campus cafe whose menu is supplied by a school garden. Supported by the Slow Food Negroni Week Fund, this pilot program bridges the gap between food education, healthy consumption and the wholesome produce of their local environment for Ibadan’s inner-city youth while providing a space where students can progress from learning to cook a basic meal for themselves to being able to cater for their whole family, and even pursue a career in cuisine.
What Project NutriHome Does
“The project combines a school garden with a café on the Ibadan University campus to promote food security among youths and the wider community,” Olajumoke tells us on a Zoom call.
School Gardens are among Slow Food’s most successful educational projects, enjoying an extensive network in Africa, America and Europe. Not only do they nourish students with a deeper appreciation of food diversity and hands-on practical knowledge of agroecological techniques and environmental conservation, but they provide fresh ingredients for school canteens, where students acquire the culinary skills that will serve them through life.
It’s hard to imagine anyone better qualified to lead this project than Olajumoke. She brings years of experience as the School Gardens Coordinator for the Akobo Youths Slow Food Community. But her Slow Food CV doesn’t end there: she is an active member of the Cooks Alliance and Slow Food Youth Network, and the national coordinator of its regional chapter.
The café menu features products from the school garden, alongside locally sourced, seasonal and organic ingredients. “The challenge,” Olajumoke tells us, “is finding the balance between what these young people are used to and the new recipes they want to try out.”
“When we first trialed our breakfast menu, we found that imitations of fast food dishes were by far the most popular. Burgers, sandwiches, pancakes, milkshakes—that sort of thing. But over time, some more traditional dishes grew in popularity too.” The kids were particularly interested in the rare leafed Wòròwó vegetable, which grows under cocoa trees and only comes to the market when harvested in abundance.
Olajumoke tells us that it’s usually prepared with freshly ground pepper and onions, and goes well with shredded smoked fish or beef chunks, shrimps and pounded yam.
“Kids were excited to eat and learn about these local ingredients, many of which they’d never heard of,” she says. What’s great about them is that they grow in the wild, and are not treated with chemicals. The problem is, she shares, that some are seasonal, meaning they’re unlikely to feature as mainstays on the cafe menu.
The Project’s Partners
Formally, Project NutriHome partners with the Building Nations Initiative (BNI), a youth-led organization focused on youth work, service-learning, and community development. BNI trains youth workers on best practices in positive youth development, advocates for PYD-related policies, and rents out space for the campus café. “They also provide volunteers, skilled services, and have been instrumental in helping us refine the scope and target of this project,” Olajumoke tells us.
“Not everything we use in the café can be grown in the school garden, so we’ll be partnering with local farmers too,” Olajumoke shares. But this broadens the biodiversity that makes its way onto the menu.
“Many of these farmers are part of the Slow Food network,” she says, “they are reliable suppliers, many are elders, and we trust them to provide quality ingredients. But they do more than that: they also infuse tradition into these ingredients, even introducing us to new ingredients and recipes we—as locals—have never heard about”
NutriHome’s Future Scope
When asked about the project’s future, Olajumoke is eager to emphasize how it might pave the way for educating the wider community.
“I’d like to organize visits to producers’ farms”, she says, “to shine the spotlight on them, raise their profile.”
“Most people don’t know what they do, and how they contribute to the food system, but by visiting them and hearing their stories we could learn more about our traditions—our shared traditions—and spread them further afield.”
Empowering and Educating through the Slow Food Negroni Week Fund
Slow Food and Project NutriHome share the belief that education is essential for securing long-term change. That’s why Project NutriHome also involves more practical, hands-on elements, empowering young people through education and enterprise.
The Slow Food Negroni Week Fund incubator grant will go toward procuring equipment, recruiting and training staff, and renovating, marketing and promoting the café, as well as launching and opening the restaurant and procuring external, sustainably produced ingredients.
Project NutriHome certainly aligns well with the mission of Slow Food, in which Olajumoke plays an active part. It promotes social equity by organizing a free meal day of the week for underprivileged students. It teaches these kids about long-term environmental sustainability by integrating such practices as composting, recycling, and food waste reduction. Most importantly, it charts a course for a future in which every young person in Ibadan has access to good, healthy and affordable food, and inspires through education.