Food as medicine: Making ‘better bananas’ in Uganda

Sandra Calkins*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Cooking bananas (matooke) are a main staple in central Uganda and are very important to well-being and health. Recently, matooke have also been associated with micronutrient deficiencies among children and women. For a number of years, this fruit has been at the heart of a public health strategy that seeks to create ‘better bananas’, that is, biofortified or nutritionally enriched bananas. The efforts to biofortify food crops are part of a recent trend in the nutrition world towards improving the quality and not only the quantity of food. This article unpacks recent configurations of philanthropy, plant science and global public health and the ways in which they make conventional food crops thinkable, for instance, as cost-effective medicines. This emergent and economized form of valuing bananas is in tension with how Ugandans appreciate bananas in everyday life. I show that emerging valuations of food matter but still should not be mistaken for changes on the ground. This article thereby searches for a middle ground between critiques of global public health and everyday practice in Uganda as well as between praxeological and structuralist/culturalist approaches to food. Instead of dismissing this banana as part of a mere paternalistic project, I show that it also is ‘good’ conceptually in that it makes bananas and health thinkable in new ways.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)560-579
Number of pages20
JournalSociological review
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • biofortification
  • valuation
  • micronutrient deficiency
  • cost-effectiveness
  • Uganda


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