Food, Health and the City: Caribbean Foodscapes Research Project in Kingston

In Jamaica, we love our food. Our island cuisine is quite famous (ackee and saltfish, jerk chicken and the like). But…aren’t you a little sick of the plethora of fast food outlets, everywhere you look? There are long lines at drive-ins and certain fast food outlets are bursting with Jamaicans – many of them young people – on evenings and weekends. Recently, at the ground-breaking for the new Town Centre in Morant Bay, St. Thomas, it was noted that at last “civilization” would come to rural residents, in the shape of a Kentucky Fried Chicken and a Burger King! This is a sign of progress!

Menu at Gloria's Restaurant in Port Royal, Jamaica.
Yes, we love our food – but we also, apparently, love what I call “junk food” equally. (My photo)

Well, a fascinating research project in Kingston is seeking to merge history and health and the quite rapid urbanization of Caribbean cities to find out what’s going on. 

We have to think more deeply about the impact our environment of concrete and cars is having on city residents’ health. In the city, we want quick and easy, and that’s where fast foods come in. How can we create a healthier lifestyle? More urban gardens, perhaps?

The Caribbean Foodscapes workshop on Wednesday will seek to get feedback on where we should be heading in terms of planning for happier, healthier “foodscapes.” We note that unhealthy eating and obesity are two of the five major risk factors contributing to the prevalence of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in Jamaica. Just over half of Jamaicans aged fifteen and over were classified as either overweight or obese (more women than men), according to the Jamaica Health and Lifestyle Survey III, 2016 – 2017. In that same period, one in ten Jamaicans aged 15 – 74 were diabetic, while about one-third of Jamaicans aged fifteen and older had hypertension (high blood pressure). Worrying, eh?

The research blends historical perspectives, examining urban populations from 1945 onwards and changes in food production and consumption, with health research. These will combine in a data mapping exercise on past and recent maps of Kingston, using GIS technology. What are the underlying factors, and how can we improve Jamaicans’ eating habits?

Eat Healthy sign in Kingston, Jamaica.
Eat Healthy! (Image from Caribbean Foodscapes website).

If you are interested in learning more about this research or would like to join this workshop on WEDNESDAY JULY 10, contact the Caribbean Foodscapes Research Project c/o the Caribbean Institute for Health Research, Epidemiology Research Unit, University of the West Indies Mona Campus, Kingston 7. Tel: 876 977-6151-2 ext. 274. Fax: 876 927-2984. Email: 

International Meeting on Kingston’s Food Culture and Health

The Caribbean Foodscapes Research team will present their preliminary findings examining the food landscapes of Kingston, Jamaica from 1945 to present. This interdisciplinary project builds on knowledge exchange between historians and health researchers. In this second workshop, we call upon local and foreign stakeholders to give feedback on the methods, data, and findings of the project to date.

The Caribbean Foodscapes project aims to develop a conceptual framework and methodology for a historically informed epidemiology and an epidemiologically informed history of the relationship between urban transformation and foodscapes in low and middle-income countries. This project can inform the work of urban planners and public health officials to restrict unhealthy food environments and increase healthy options.

The project is a feasibility study which has started in Kingston, Jamaica with the intention of expanding to Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

The second workshop of the project will be held on Wednesday 10thJuly, 2019 from 8:45 a.m. to 4:30 pm at the Ramson Meeting Room at UWI Regional Headquarters, Kingston 7.

It will feature addresses from the research team and exchanges with partners such as Mona GeoInformatics Institute, Urban Development Corporation, National Environment and Planning Agency, National Health Fund, Healthy Caribbean Coalition, and Institute of Jamaica.  Members of the press are welcome. Refreshments will be provided. The workshop will be hosted by the research investigators, who are led by Dr. Cornelia Guell (European Centre for Environment and Human Health, University of Exeter Medical School), Dr. Ishtar Govia (Caribbean Institute for Health Research, UWI) and Prof. Matthew Smith (Department of History and Archaeology, UWI).

Street food in Kingston, Jamaica.
Street food: Corn and dried coconut in Trench Town, Kingston. (My photo)

2 thoughts on “Food, Health and the City: Caribbean Foodscapes Research Project in Kingston

  1. Good info. Thanks for sharing. I am seeing this article after the fact, I also don’t live in JA still I would love to be a part of this discussion. Is there a way to participate?


    1. Hi! I wonder if you could participate… Here are the contact details for the organizers in Jamaica: Ishtar Govia, Ph.D.
      Lecturer, Caribbean Institute for Health Research (CAIHR) – Epidemiology Research Unit
      The University of the West Indies, Mona Campus
      Kingston 7, Jamaica
      Tel: (1-876) 977-6151-2 (ext. 274)


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