Before I proceed, let me go the Isio way and state that I sincerely lay no claims to being knowledgeable or a professional in this field. The concerns set out are borne out of a disturbing observation as an ordinary Nigerian, and I hope that when I am done, it would be yours as well.
We live in an environment that is becoming cosmopolitan in its look and thinking. Nigeria is witnessing an unprecedented foray of foreign food business into the country. This cosmopolitanness has gradually moved into our kitchens and is now a fat heaving mass at the dinner table.
There is this deceptive thinking among Nigerians that we only start eating healthy at a certain age and at a certain time. Definitely not before 30, but any time from thereafter would suffice. It’s very common to hear people say such things as, “let me eat it now while I’m still young, before some doctor declares them bad for my health”. We can therefore conclude that there is an understanding, however subliminal, that some things we eat are not good for us.
Perhaps you might think that only people who are well off have the luxury of choosing their meals; that “na big man fit get time to choose wetin him wan chop; na anything wey dey hand poor man go chop”.
I ask you to take a look at the numbers of Iya Sikiras and fast food joints which have grown exponentially over the years. Considering that the classes of people who consume this differ, we can safely assume everyone has a choice, within their pocket limit – and that less and less people eat home cooked meals.
Gone are the days when ‘mineral’ was just for special events and not something we celebrate every meal with. When I was much younger, good grades and well cleaned rooms or that special uncle’s visit were rewarded with well intentioned treats like Walls Ice cream, oyakaka, sprint chewing gum, gogo M&K, baba dudu etc. Now, school kids have chewing gums in their pencil cases and ice cream as mid-day snacks.
Look in the lunch pack of the average Nigerian child. Across Nigeria, whether it is the woman who has a well worn wrapper tied across a faded T-Shirt, with the words “adieu mama” faintly made out, her son trudging along her side; or the career mom who (or whose maid/cook) packs school lunch for the kids; they usually have one thing in common: the abundance of Bobo/Viju/Caprisone/biscuits/sweets etc. The food flask is almost the same thing: Indomie (which is the generic name for all things noodles). The only difference is when Mum 1 decides to stop instead at Iya Sikiras shop to buy rice N20:00, Beans N20:00, and one dead beat looking piece of meat (no pun intended). Mum 2 may add one piece of boiled egg and shred some carrots and green peas in them. Yet we interpret stunted growth as, “He looks like his uncle’s grandfather” and overweight kids as, “it means that I am feeding him well”.
It used to be that cravings were strictly for pregnant women. Now everyone has them; only that now, they are becoming substitutes for real food. Burgers, fries, hot dogs and strawberry yoghurt for breakfast; pizza and mineral/malt for lunch; Sharwarma and Shepe for dinner. Water is what we use to bathe.
More and more young people are being diagnosed with diseases that were rare; and if at all heard of, were for the old and frail. No more can diseases like diabetes, heart failure, stroke and some cancers be exclusively be referred to as “big man’s disease”. Everyone and anyone can have them now – thanks, I believe, to the fallen standard of our food and the choices we make on what and where to eat.
I am not here to advocate for any fancy salad dressing; nor am I pro-meat or anti-ice cream consumption. I am simply concerned that most of us are not concerned about where our meals come from, what we eat or the quality of the food themselves.
You may be dieting and still be malnourished, because your veggies may be lacking vital micronutrients. You may be having a balanced diet looking meal whose nutrients have been washed away by the hastened process of growth or over cooking. You may not care much about food as long as it’s edible, but at what cost?
This is to say nothing about the family bonding moments that have been taken from us. It used to be that the kitchen was where everyone gathered and talked about their day as they pitched in to help prepare dinner. The dining table was where morsels of food were stolen under the nose of unsuspecting persons; where son and father discussed their views of the world. That family of six, seated on a mat where everyone dipped into a big bowl of Eba as the atupa (oil lamp) stood guard to illuminate anyone whose hand moved too fast or made an ill- advised foray into the bowl of fish before papa took his first; where the meat on my rice was the tool of barter to ride my brother’s bike for the whole afternoon the following day. Now, we spend more time trying to look cool and outdo each other with our orders at fast food restaurants.
I believe we can raise kids who are not hooked on sugar and fast foods. I believe they can become adults who would make informed sensitive choices on what to eat, how to eat and where to eat for themselves, and the generation to come.
Let us eat healthy, let us eat right. The witches in the village have all died and no one is left to blame when a 36 year old man slumps to death because he works so hard and survives on take outs; or blame blood sucking demons when a pregnant woman looks weak and wan because she is anemic; or shout “Holy Ghost fire!” when a child faints in the playground, because his heart could not take one more burger.
Let us eat healthy; let us eat wise. Health is indeed wealth. Let us cherish it.
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