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Keywords:

  • Aboriginal Australians;
  • cattle stations;
  • elderly;
  • food intake;
  • indigenous food culture;
  • rapid assessment procedures

Between 1988 and 1993 the International Union of Nutritional Sciences Committee ‘Nutrition and Ageing’ established the international ‘Food Habits in Later Life’ (FHILL) Program. 1,2 The FHILL program documented current and distant past food habits of more than 2000 Caucasian and Asian elderly people, which also included 54 older Aboriginal Australians in a community called Junjuwa in the Fitzroy Valley, Kimberley region, Western Australia. The program primarily used a quantitative food frequency questionnaire to collect food intake data. However, in some communities this was neither practical nor feasible due to differences in cultural interpretation of questions relating to ‘time’, ‘frequency’ and ‘quantity’. To overcome this hurdle, FHILL was coupled to a qualitative socioanthropological methodolgy known as RAP ‘Rapid Assessment Procedures’. This paper reviews published qualitative data using RAP to describe distant past food intake on cattle stations prior to the 1960s 1 and food intake of Aborigines aged 50 years and over in 1988 in Junjuwa. 4 Aboriginal food habits on cattle stations prior to the 1960s appeared to be more nutrient dense, due to greater food variety and higher intakes of lean fresh and salted buffalo meat (probably high in omega-3 fatty acids), offal, vegetables and bush foods; buffalo fat was rationed and used in meat stews. High intakes of tea and sugar appears to have remained unchanged. Food intake was more or less constant from day to day in contrast to the ‘feast’ and ‘famine’ days observed in the community studied in 1988, which was related to the pension cycle. In contrast to the more varied cattle station diet, the community-dwelling older Aborigines in 1988 consumed more than 50% of their total energy intake from three foods: sugar, fatty beef/lamb and white flour (damper). Exploring distant past food intake on cattle stations has helped explain desirable and undesirable food preferences of the older Aborigines in 1988. For example, the desire for stewed fatty meat, salty preserved meat, onions, potatoes, white leavened and unleavened bread (damper), rice, oats, salty sauces/curry, sugar and tea, but a lack of desirable oils, leafy greens, yoghurt, legumes and nuts is partly a reflection of the food habits and preferences of Anglo-Australians in the bush more than 50 years ago.