African societies and economies are caught up in the intersection of at least five megatrends: population growth, urbanisation, climate change, migration, and the knot of food, water and energy insecurity.
Mainstream economists are often celebratory about the fact that Africa demonstrates the fastest rate of urbanisation because it supposedly signals good economic fortune. It is premised on the evidence that sustained economic growth has never taken place in the absence of urbanisation. However, this narrative fails to account for the specificities of African urbanisation.
Urbanisation processes in most African contexts are marked predominantly by informality in terms of how people live, secure their livelihoods, and experience governance. One consequence of this is that most urban areas are poorly planned, unevenly regulated, and marked by urban management practices that favour elites and undermine urban majorities who struggle to put food on the table, and access a decent job, healthcare, and education. It is in this context that we need grounded insights into how real African cities actually operate and how people navigate repressive dynamics. The work of the urban food system scholars in the ACC provides invaluable evidence and perspective on the specificities of urbanisation in three secondary African cities – the kind of context where the majority of urban Africans find themselves. Tomatoes & Taxi Ranks is a lively publication that seeks to extend that research into a larger public domain. It epitomises the commitment of the ACC to conduct excellent academic research and simultaneously enrich the commons through user-friendly publications that speak to the public at large.
Tomatoes & Taxi Ranks provides an intimate account of what poor urban Africans eat; where they source their food; how their diets and nutritional intake changes with urbanisation; and the corrosive capitalist logics that drive much of these processes.
It reveals urban living as marked by ‘convenience’, but is ultimately soulless. For example, urban dwellers are forced to forego access to nutritional staples in favour of processed foods that fuel our obesity epidemic.
This publication also demonstrates how the logic of convenience not only leads to a change in diet, but also promotes the ‘supermarketisation’ of food consumption, with dire consequences for local economies, diets, social networks, and cultural dynamism. Yet, so often, the forms of urban life and living, such as the drive for ever more shopping malls, are projected as unavoidable and unstoppable.
This publication challenges this and provides an agenda for public debate. It suggests that we can, and must, connect international trade policy with local regulations if we want to alter the course of urban livelihoods and wellbeing for the urban poor. It offers a series of practical ideas on how to rethink food and eating as part of a system and not simply matters of individual consumption or cultural preference. Instead, Tomatoes & Taxi Ranks challenges all of us to consume reflectively and act justly. It demands a fundamental remaking of governance, and calls for new forms of urban citizenship that are rooted in more healthy, pleasurable and inclusive patterns of living and movement.
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