College of Humanities

Masters Research Explores Media Coverage of Food for Healthy Living

The Independent Online (IOL) news service was used as a case study for research into Media coverage of food for healthy living.

The research earned Ms Nokubonga Jele, a digital communications officer for the British High Commission, a Master of Arts degree.

Said Jele: ‘I love food and eating healthy. Growing up, I enjoyed eating traditional vegetables my grandmother cooked. I later learned that these foods were highly nutritious but noticed they were not popular in supermarkets in and around Durban.’

She argues that the power of media platforms is an instrumental for promoting health messages and encouraging public awareness about indigenous foods as part of a healthy diet. ‘The media has long shared content about food, shaping and influencing conversations about food. From cookbooks to digital recipes shared online as images or videos, the objective is to share a recipe and, as a by-product, to create social context for that recipe,’ said Jele.

Findings revealed that IOL recipes published from 1January, 2014 until 31 August, 2018 covered food recipes that often did not follow the South African food-based dietary guidelines. ‘Indigenous food recipes are not featured in the recipes published on IOL. None of the recipes mentioned indigenous foods, fruits and vegetables, or non-communicable diseases (NCD),’ said Jele.

She noted that ‘there was an increasing number of NCD related deaths and the Department of Health has recognised the role of the media to change perceptions and encourage healthy living styles and the consumption of indigenous foods. However, mainstream media has not yet started to recognise the importance of featuring these foods on their platforms.’

Jele’s study highlighted that the news websites did not include information about the nutritional content of the food in recipes shared. Instead, recipes were written in a persuasive tone and shared with appetising images that encourage consumption.

‘I am passionate about health, culture and representation in the media. My

research brings forward the conversation about indigenous food and the health benefits associated with it,’ said Jele. ‘This could contribute to a healthy diet to combat NCDs in low income households. I am advocating for more creative ways to present indigenous cuisines on social media.’

Jele started her Masters journey in 2017, just a month after giving birth to her son. ‘I was suffering from postpartum depression. With no support from family because they did not think much of an Arts degree, I had no scholarship and I was unemployed. To survive, I had to sell my laptops, fridge and cellphone. Juggling motherhood and school was a harsh reality.’

To support herself financially, she worked for UKZN Corporate Relations and Mangosuthu University of Technology Radio as the leading host on the afternoon drive show, as well as the Durban University of Technology Student Services.

Jele was thrilled to graduate, ‘This is a milestone for my son and I. Even though my mental health suffered, I am humbled and proud that I have made it this far.

‘Be passionate about your research topic,’ was the advice she had for other students. ‘Pay attention to every step of your research journey and know that it matters to help move our communities forward and to combat misinformation in the digital era.’

Jele plans to do another master’s degree in international relations and policy.