How do migrant women navigate their food environment during pregnancy? Foods are imbued with new meanings in a new place, and in low-and-middle-income countries including South Africa, a changing food environment leaves the poor, including many migrants, vulnerable to malnutrition. Thus, one of the ways economic and social vulnerability may be experienced and reproduced is via the foods one consumes. Examining food perceptions in the context of pregnancy offers a potentially powerful lens on wellbeing.
Nine focus group discussions (N = 48) with Somali, Congolese, and Zimbabwean men and women, and 23 in-depth interviews with Congolese, Somali and Zimbabwean women living in Cape Town were conducted, exploring maternal and infant nutrition. We used thematic analysis to guide analysis.
(1) Participants described longing for self-categorised “traditional” foods, yet had limited access and little time and space to prepare these foods in the manner they had back home. (2) Sought-after foods available—and even celebratory—for migrants in Cape Town during pregnancy tended to be calorie-dense, nutrient poor fast foods and junk foods. (3) The fulfilment of cravings was presented as the embodiment of health during pregnancy. (4) Iron-folic acid supplementation was perceived as curative rather than preventive. (5) While participants did not describe hunger during pregnancy, food scarcity seemed possible.
Food perceptions during pregnancy reflected migrants’ orientation towards home. Fast foods were widely acceptable and available during pregnancy. These foods were not perceived to have negative health consequences. Nutrition interventions targeting migrants should consider the symbolic nature of food, the increasingly globalised food environment in urban LMIC settings, as well as the contexts in which health perceptions evolve.