Valentin Bognan Koné: Food restrictions, health risks and allergies

In Côte d’Ivoire, there are still many food taboos such as the consumption of monkey, chimpanzee or catfish in some communities. Thus, cultural anthropology included this issue in the area where the taboo prohibitions are often associated with cosmogony or the protection of the clan or tribe. Other explanations link the prohibition to arbitrary rules imposed by religious fanatics to limit the infinite desires of their believers. In one case as in the other, the link between the forbidden food and health is not always clearly established.

In fact, the particular nature of man is manifested by its physiological ability to eat everything, so that he is considered as an omnivore. This characteristics shows his autonomy, freedom and adaptability (unlike specialized eaters such as carnivores and herbivores). However against all these possibilities that the human being has in the choice of his diet, he manages to impose socially food restrictions. This "paradox of omnivore" (Fischler, 1990;1994) places human being at the center of two contradictory instincts, yet complementary: the fear of the unknown (neophobia) and the vital need for exploration and novelty (neophilia). Individual eaters or community members are animated on one side by an obligation of variety and the other a safety requirement. Thus, as much as eating is a physiological and cultural act, quantities, species or forms to be eaten should preserve health. In fact the human being knows that certain foods can kill him, which created a certain mistrust vis-à-vis of food (Rozin, 1976). This "anxiety" or "food scares" can define people's choices on whether the danger, real or imaginary, either old or new, easy or difficult to think, voluntary chosen or being imposed (Apfelbaum, 1998). To avoid this danger and to better manage their health security, some communities will establish food restrictions. Thus, risk and food scares may be understood not just from the perspective of the threat of metabolic diseases (diabetes, hypertension, etc.) or local food contamination (food intoxication) or industrial (mad cow disease, bird flu, milk contaminated with melamine, etc.). They could also be seen in terms of allergy to a specific dish. For this reason, it will be interesting to examine the foundations of food taboos in relation to health in a food safety context.

The search for health equilibrium in certain populations in Côte d’Ivoire raises the issue of health in relation to food culture - in other words, how ideology and representations build the health risk taking into account food restrictions. Also, what is their role in the construction or maintenance of a good sanitary condition?  The study is structured around the following question: What are the determinants of social and health food taboos? This overall questions is related to other subsidiary issues: What are knowledge and perceptions on food restrictions among populations? What are the relationships between food forbidden and well-being? What are the endogenous mechanisms established by communities to maintain good health?


Valentin Bognan Koné is a PhD student at Centre Suisse de Recherches Scientifiques en Côte d’Ivoire (CSRS) and the Centre for African Studies Basel (CASB). He completed his MA at the Institute of Sociology and Anthropology, University of Felix Houphouët Boigny d’Abidjan Cocody, Côte d’Ivoire. His MA thesis looked at the social representation and perception of the quality of food from animal origin by the consumers in the rural area in Cinzana, Mali. Valentin undertook research at the National Institute of Sahel of Mali and at the Centre Suisse de Recherches Scientifiques de Côte d’Ivoire.