Ice Cream for a Better World? Really?
Tapi Tapi is an artisanal ice-cream parlour in Cape Town, a small operation yet one that punches with heavyweights in food activism. Food activism is happening around the globe. The goals are to combat the imposition of Western ideals on cuisine and bring to the fore traditional patterns of food preparation and eating. So, as well as feeding our palates with mouth-watering ice cream, how is Tapi Tapi’s work feeding into this larger movement?
Fancy A Scoop?
Setting foot in Tapi Tapi’s brick-and-mortar shop, the vibe is welcoming and displays an array of cultures. There is not a vanilla or chocolate scoop in view. The absence of which alludes to Tapi Tapi’s uniqueness. Tapi Tapi is committed to incorporating African flavour profiles in ice cream. Before ordering, an effervescent employee introduces the week’s line-up and the importance of each ingredient in its local context.
‘Kelewele’ is a caramelised plantain, ginger, and fire-roasted peanut flavour from Ghana. ‘Nhopi’ is roasted pumpkin and dark chocolate from Zimbabwe. ‘Thiakry’ is millet couscous and sour milk originating from West Africa, an ice cream impressively adapted for the vegans out there without compromising its creamy notes. Inspiration from South Africa offers ‘Amagwinya’, deep-fried dough and ‘Midzi’, fermented roots. Other creative ingredients include fermented pineapple, sorghum biscuits and tangy tamarind.
The name ‘Tapi Tapi’ is of Zimbabwean origin meaning 'yum yum'. After devouring a scoop or two of their ice cream anyone will confirm the name is fitting. Yet to its community and everyone invested in the flourishing of African culture, Tapi Tapi continuously proves its value is greater than a scoop of ice cream in a cone. From grassroots efforts provisioning food locally and promoting up and coming artists to more intangible contributions restoring the perception and knowledge of African continental cuisine, Tapi Tapi is truly engaged in food activism.
The Bigger Picture
Tapi Tapi counters the ‘Westernisation’ of food, which largely a product of colonialism and American cultural dominance. In the past, colonial powers commandeered agricultural food production in many colonised regions, thus influencing dominant crops and staple ingredients. An example of this is ‘maize’, which is an introduced food to southern Africa and has become the staple grain in many dishes, typically consumed as a porridge named pap, ugali or sadza among other names.
On top of this, American cultural dominance refers to the subsequent idealisation of American values, cultural symbols and dietary patterns. It has been further entrenched in the 21st century by popular culture, Hollywood, social media presence and glamour. Notably many dietary trends in Africa have followed similar consumption patterns to the West, characterised by a rise in processed, high-energy food and animal products.
Even beyond household and daily consumption, the Westernisation of food is also evident in our conceptions of fine dining. Studies find Western-style foods have the greatest opportunity to be awarded the high adulation of a Michelin star rating, with French cuisine topping the tables. ‘Ethnic’ foods are often limited to enjoyment in family-style or cheap-and-cheerful restaurants. Many argue it is time for a change. Western dominance is no longer idealised as taste buds develop and a wider variety of representation is demanded. It is time to swap vanilla and chocolate ice cream, for a more unique Tapi Tapi flavour such as Kelewele or Nhopi. This leads us to question what actions facilitate a return to traditional cuisine?
Food Activists in Action
Efforts by Tapi Tapi to pay homage to African flavours are echoed by food activists globally. During the Native American Heritage Month 2021, many native American chefs in the position to do so launched fusion menus between modern and pre-colonisation cuisines. Fusion menus allow for the popular and esteemed presentation of ancestral preparation methods. In the Caribbean, there is a similar return to traditional food owing to COVID-19 restrictions on tourism and a lessened need to cater to international tastebuds. At an international governance level, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations recognised the importance of cultural visibility in food systems in their 2021 report on Indigenous Peoples’ Food Systems. So, what are the merits of shifting away from Westernisation and incorporating traditional food into modern lifestyles? And what is Tapi Tapi doing specifically to achieve this?
The Importance of Cultural Representation
Food is cultural. The Westernisation of food is inherently marked by the relative devaluation of traditional food. Implications of this devaluing tend to have negative cultural implications as groups may feel their ways of life are being stripped away. But thankfully, food activism contributes to a revitalisation of culture in a medium that is accessible and deeply interwoven into our daily lives.
And in support of this, Tapi Tapi contributes to food activism by championing the acceptability of African flavours in a fusion setting, changing what we perceive as limitations to African cultural presence. The revolutionary ice cream parlour equips customers with knowledge of ingredients, their flavour profiles and how to source. In this sense, Tapi Tapi is equipping customers with the tools to bring food activism home, serving up change on their own dining room tables.
Self-esteem: Another Key Element
Also warranting exploration is the intersection between culture, food, and self-esteem. Eating is such a crucial juncture at which to restore self-esteem potentially damaged by the devaluation of culture. Food connects us to our families and by extension, our roots, as recipes are passed down and food is prepared for special gatherings. Eating is a daily activity. Thus, our choices around food become central to our identities. One must take pride in the consumption of heritage foods, fostering the reconnection between identities and our roots.
And the intersection between culture, food and self-esteem is recognised in Tapi Tapi’s raison d’être. In the founders’ mission statement on Tapi Tapi’s website, “Food is often a source of othering and has been used as a way to corrupt a people's sense of identity and self-worth. Our paramount mission is to heal and nurture the collective self-esteem of the continent through food and the rituals around food” - Tapiwa Guzha, Founder.
Towards a change in your kitchen
Visiting Tapi Tapi is more than a welcomed pit-stop for sweet tooths, it is eye-opening. Tapi Tapi models food activism in business, working within a capitalist system to bring positive change and heal. Wherever you live in the world, we all have the potential to embrace the Tapi Tapi way, becoming more inclusive and appreciative of heritage foods in our cooking and consumption thus becoming part-time food activists.
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