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Atoke’s Awkward Banter: How Hungry are You?

Atoke

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There is a Yoruba adage that says “Ebi kii wo’nu, k’oro miran wo” – Once hunger takes lodging inside a person, it’s hard for any other issue to find a home. This is a loose translation, but the Yorubas sure were onto something when they coined that phrase. It’s a milder version of ‘a hungry man is an angry man’, or more accurately, ‘a hungry person is unable to process any other form of information.’

To a large extent, I believe this is true, for people with no access to food. Hunger and starvation is a huge problem that plagues African countries. While we have the natural resources to feed us, we lack the infrastructural resources to ensure adequate distribution to food. Nigerian leaders also don’t really care, so there are hundreds of millions of Nigerians that are actually too poor to eat.
However, the focus of this piece is not people starving, or without access to food. I seek to explore the reason behind the glorification of food by a class of Nigerians who have access to three square meals.

Food has been given such large prominence in the Nigerian society, that it is time to consider taking it off that pedestal. Perhaps, if we re-evaluate the positioning of food, we might have healthier inter-personal relationships, and maybe, just maybe, we’ll have better human relations.

Growing up, I knew my father was upset with my mother when he rejected her well-prepared meal, in favour of drinking sour garri with groundnuts. My mother would in turn sit dutifully, looking contrite, for whatever her infraction was. Mostly, coming back late from church, but that’s gist for another time. The rejected food was sent back to the kitchen, where my brother would hurriedly dig in – lest my older cousins got there before him. At least, Daddy’s food did not go to waste. (usually of a higher grade than whatever was served us).

It was my first introduction to food, first as a tool for expressing displeasure, and also a mechanism for emotional manipulation.

By the time I turned 10, it was well ingrained in me the need to know how to cook, in sickness and in health – to help prepare for when I took those vows. I was raised to ensure there was always food; it did not matter that I had menstrual pain. Pain was for the weak, and weakness was not allowed when you had to feed your home. Food was also not just for the purpose of sustenance, it was also to show that I had come from good stock. Genes be damned, as long as I could prepare & provide food, I was from good stock.

Food is not just a source of nutrition for Nigerians; it is the foundation of the breakdown of many relationships. I understand that we are a third world country, but are we really so hungry?

At the core of many crumbled friendships, is food. You hear things like:

we went to visit her, and she didn’t even offer us food”

My mother-in-law said I’m a bad wife, because I didn’t give her enough food

He didn’t want to hang out with us because he thought we’d finish his food”

What kind of woman does not know how to cook?

Wicked guy, he didn’t even say ‘come and join me’ “

We went for their wedding and they couldn’t even offer us chicken and plantain, only half moin-moin

Across different levels of society, there’s the overt assertion that food is primary. It has become quite clear that Nigerians don’t just eat to live, we live to eat.

When Tunji Balogun, husband of Nigerian singer, Tiwa Savage gave his account of what led to the public disintegration of their marriage, he stated that  his wife never asked him if he had eaten.

Food, strong enough to break a bond of love and vows – in sickness and in health.

There are so many tales of young girls led to their eventual kidnap, assault, and death, simply because they were promised food at their destination. Young students leave their hostels on dangerous outings, just because someone has offered them food. How exotic is that food someone is offering that you’d go across a twenty kilometre bridge, just before midnight to go eat?

And forget what you’ve been told about how some foods are low on the scale of respectability; the way one pack of noodles will fill you, is the same way yam and egg will fill you.  Nigerians go abroad and complain about how salad is not food, and rice is bird food. They find a way to insult their hosts, because they believe they have somehow been spited being offered what they consider low level food. Two pieces of meat were placed on their plates instead of five – befitting of a person of their status, as esteemed guests from overseas.

Growing up, I learned that when visitors came from Ogbomosho, it was a sign of respect to heap four mounds of Amala in front of them, because there could be untoward consequences if you served them just one. My mother would be blamed, and we certainly did not want that.

If you have to verbally assault someone because they offered you Indomie noodles as a meal, then there’s a need to assess your life values and ethics.

It is truly mind boggling that a husband would beat up his wife because she did not serve him with food. Even more disconcerting is the fact that there are people who will justify the assault by saying “a hungry man is an angry man. Why didn’t you give him food?”

While hunger is a strong motivator for certain things in times of famine and pestilence, I am hard pressed to see how hungry you can get, to beat someone you claim you love – especially when the food is actually available. It’s just there in the kitchen, or at the shops. It’s actually available. But no, show off your boxing skills because… FOOD!

Every other day on Nigerian social media, there is a recurring topic of food – being cooked, being served and being eaten. It’s almost as if someone has told Nigerians that if we continue to fixate on food, we will have constant electricity, accessible and affordable primary health care.

We love food very much; we theorize on how it is disrespectful for one adult to neglect the provision of food to yet another adult. We pontificate on ‘Nigerian culture’ and the place of food in our culture and how we must not let the consumption of food die. Three out of four conversation-type talk shows incorporates food into their topics, and they go on and on about it. We, in turn spend our valuable data, watching people talk about whether one adult should provide another adult with food. You’d think all the discourse around food some how increase our productivity, or even agricultural development.  Nope, it’s simply just about consumption.

Food.
Food.
Food.

Newly married women are hailed as good wives when their husbands develop extra layers of fat; food being the Nigerian indicator that the marriage is going smoothly. The more I think about it, the more I am inclined to think that we have allowed food lead us, as a nation, by the noose.

If we do not eat, we will die; we need food to live, literally. However, food is not to be used as a tool for subjugation. Food is not to be used as a means of emotional blackmail.
Food is certainly not the litmus test of societal values and morals.

Every time there is a conversation about gender equality, food is bandied as a spear to ward off anybody who dares states that women should be treated as decent human beings. Recently, a video surfaced of Nigerian actor, Adebayo Salami, Oga Bello, talking about how women seek equality because they do not want to cook for men.

Food provision for adult men, is one of the reason why gender equality is consistently stifled in Nigeria. Think about it, slowly.

It is incredibly myopic to round up every thing about women’s rights to pots, pans and pieces of meat.

Women also have found a way to demonize other women who do not provide food – not for babies and infants, but for fellow adults. Stories abound of how derogatory statements are made against women who are unable/unwilling to cook. Women have managed to internalize the rhetoric that their value is intrinsically tied to their ability to provide food.

It is just food. Sustenance for the body.

You are really not so hungry that you lose your ability to reason; forget what the Yoruba adage says.

I strongly believe that unless you’re in a country experiencing famine, starvation or something extremely life threatening, there is absolutely no reason why you should become a horrible person because of food. If you find yourself being tempted to be mean, callous and inhumane, remember that you’re not going to die in that instant, if you don’t eat.

And if you’re that hungry, please drink water. You will be alright.

P.S
My brother went on to earn the nickname Remino, in our house – not just because his middle name was Remilekun, but because his belly was the constant repository of Daddy’s rejected dinners. What can I say? Mummy came back late from choir practice a LOT!

You probably wanna read a fancy bio? But first things first! Atoke published a book titled, +234 - An Awkward Guide to Being Nigerian. It's available on Amazon. ;)  Also available at Roving Heights bookstore.Okay, let's go on to the bio: With a Masters degree in Creative Writing from Swansea University, Atoke hopes to be known as more than just a retired foodie and a FitFam adherent. She can be reached for speechwriting, copywriting, letter writing, script writing, ghost writing  and book reviews by email – [email protected]. She tweets with the handle @atoke_ | Check out her Instagram page @atoke_ and visit her website atoke.com for more information.

22 Comments

  1. Cynical

    October 24, 2017 at 12:51 pm

    Atoke, well written. Pls its food na, it’s not that serious, hubby knows the I’m vexing, I won’t eat one doesn’t work for me. Me , that I’m silently praying you don’t eat sef…..??

  2. angel

    October 24, 2017 at 1:42 pm

    Thank you Atoke
    My MIL said if someone watched a lot of nollywood they will think “food” is the only thing Nigerians care about. It is the one thing that is consistent across all movies (be ir Yoruba or English. You either take them out on a date to eat, or have a party where ppl eat or ppl are eating in their own house.

    • Caramel

      October 24, 2017 at 2:09 pm

      Your MIL said that? Wow! She is different man! Other people MILs are calling them irresponsible because of food.

    • Mz Socially Awkward....

      October 25, 2017 at 11:23 pm

      And the one that absolutely kills me is when a girl is being judged on her sexual behaviour simply based on food.

      I hate it when I hear people class women as “suya and small stout babes”. How can food become the scale on which you weigh a person’s worth? What does that say about you, the buyer of the suya, who can’t freely offer someone a few pieces of meat without entering her knickers? ?

      The other painment is that whole man-wants-to-toast-babe-and-carries-her-plus-a-herd-of-friends-to-fast-food-joint scenario. Girls, stop it. Eat at home, abeg and stop falling into the hands of predators for the sake of 6 packets of rice, salad and chicken with juice. Please just stop it.

  3. Fabulous

    October 24, 2017 at 1:57 pm

    God bless you Atoke for this article. I love it. Aptly describes my thoughts on Food. The way we have idolized food in this country of ours, beats me.

  4. Akara Pancake

    October 24, 2017 at 2:04 pm

    Food, the lack of, and the worship of, is an issue even among the middle and upper middle classes in Nigeria. I have been at weddings where well dressed people were scrambling for small chops on the table. Some people arrive at the reception, find a table, sit down and get busy, and by the time other guests come, the new arrivals see toothpicks and greasy plates where the small chops tray used to be. And the funny thing is that the greedy person would be hiding behind sunglasses, feeling cool and acting like nothing has happened. They wear their fine clothes and look respectable, but “dem no dey write am for face”

    In most native jurisdictions, before you and your “township-based” fiancee are allowed to perform traditional marriage rites, pay a dowry or even bury a relative, you are told to perform some traditional obligations like provide foodstuff or cash for the village elders and kinsmen. And these people also show up at your event and demand their own tent or your event would be torpedoed or sanctioned by the “community” (them). You get the impression that some of the rites performed have little to do with tradition and more with economic interest. Have you seen these elders put away food?

    At one event in my village, they handed a group of 15 elderly men, a huge tureen of oha soup and a very large slap of fufu. The soup contained more than a 100 pieces of goat meat, shaki, offals, pieces of dried fish etc. The food was served in a way so that they could all eat together as it normally done in the rural settings to save plates. To accentuate greed.

    These men proceeded to gently and painstakingly remove all the pieces of meat and fish bit by bit from the soup. They then requested a separate platter so that they could place them there so that nobody would feel “cheated”. They divided the meat/fish piece by piece. And you know that it is mathematically difficult to divide 100 pieces of meat/fish by 15, but they did it without a calculator. Pythagoras himself would have been proud.

    They then proceeded to eat the fufu, each rolling a fat lump the size of a runs girl’s head, dipping in the soup, and then swallowing turn by turn in a circle.

    The arrangement was going just fine, when one of them while dipping in the soup, found a loose piece of fish which had not been seen earlier. He attempted to hide it in his palm behind the lump of fufu he was holding. As he made to shove it in his face hole, one of the others spotted him and alerted the others.

    They scolded him, and he had to forfeit the piece of fish to the platter to be shared!

    • Chinma Eke

      October 24, 2017 at 3:39 pm

      Lmao!!!

    • TiVo

      October 24, 2017 at 6:15 pm

      hahahahaha oh my! @Akara pancake you are too funny.

    • Manny

      October 24, 2017 at 6:35 pm

      ??????

    • Chydee

      October 25, 2017 at 10:31 am

      ????

    • Mo

      October 25, 2017 at 11:11 am

      This just killed me ah ah ah ah.

    • Mz Socially Awkward....

      October 25, 2017 at 11:08 pm

      ???? I’ve been finished off with laughter. And I can completely see my village elders doing that kind of nonesense.?

  5. Zeluwa

    October 24, 2017 at 3:38 pm

    Atoke God Bless you. M’y husband has not spoken to me for seven weeks.He said Ï give him noodles.The two families are involved.The truth-I Cook meals.I dont serve him noodles all thé time. Hé refused to restock.. Just this Morning, I went to get something from His car (hé didnt know) .saw indomie Neatly tucked btw driver and passenger seats.It is à difficult time.My family has been supportive

    • Theo Mane

      October 24, 2017 at 4:04 pm

      Theres something hes not saying. I doubt if the real reason is food..

  6. Kokoro X Dudu

    October 24, 2017 at 3:47 pm

    Those who said the way to a man’s heart is through his tummy aimed a little bit too high.

  7. Tessa Doghor

    October 24, 2017 at 5:21 pm

    Hmmm.

    HATE the topic of food because it separates so many people who make food more important than a human being.

    I hate saying ‘come and eat’ because it is bad English. And ‘Have you eaten’ is certainly not romantic but people assume that it is a sign of care and take offence is they are not asked, ‘have you eaten’?

    And so we move on like romantics saying, have you eaten, because society demands it. People who do this are the limit.

    That conversation simply doesn’t make sense.

    But some people will read it and say, she is stingy. Not realizing that they are the ones who seem crazy to me, since they have equated ‘come and eat’ with manners and they go ahead and chew loudly or talk while eating because we all have different definition of manners.

  8. Amaka

    October 24, 2017 at 5:59 pm

    When I first got married, my husband tried to use rejection of food as a weapon. Apparently, he didn’t know me well enough. You say no, I happily chop it with a smile. He gave himself brain. I didn’t even realize what he was doing until we were watching a Nigerian movie and a husband refused his wife’s food. I said, “why would he think that’s punishment”. My husband responded “Not everyone is like you”! Hahahahaha hahahaha! At least you know that ish doesn’t affect me one bit. You eat o, you no eat, I’ll kuku sleep early if you choose to carry face!

  9. Roseline

    October 24, 2017 at 6:31 pm

    FOOD, FOOD, FOOD OOOO!! How many times have i called? The katakata you have caused and still causing, I hope say you go fit handle am.lolz
    My hubby rejected my food and I stopped cooking for him , now he reported me that I didn’t make efforts in cooking for him despite the fact that he has refused my in other to prove am a good wife( hummm, as if I care). Praise God for the cooking leave, am seriously enjoying the break #tonguesout#

  10. Ano

    October 24, 2017 at 7:47 pm

    We didn’t have any sort of entertainment or extracurricular activities in 9ja thats the reason food had been made the centre point of entertainment. Now we have cinemas n parks here and there. Before now, bukas/restaurants was always there to impress a girl or a group of people.

  11. xoxo

    October 25, 2017 at 7:08 am

    “…he stated that his wife never asked him if he had eaten.” Atoke, hubs and i fought and didnt speak for some time over this matter. With multiple housekeepers, i am expected to be cooking. He wishes i will personally SERVE him food, as that is what he grew up observing. I used to do so in the past stopped because of the underlying meaning. food is really the god of men. a grown man should know when he is hungry. p.s. I’m less angry because i realised at some point he is really the product of culture and the yoruba entertainment he fills himself with.
    P.S. If i ask Have you eaten…it will be based on pure, genuine care.

  12. Zedzed

    October 25, 2017 at 12:16 pm

    I once changed my phone number in order to get away from a guy who claimed to love and wanted to marry me. On paper he seemed like a good guy on paper but I was unfortunately unable to find out the important stuff about his character because every time he called me, his first question was “have you eaten?” followed immediately by “have you prayed?”
    Nobody can imagine how those seemingly innocent questions irked my soul. Rather than causing myself unnecessary aggro, I promptly blocked his number. he got a different number and continued asking me the same questions, so I thought the solution to the problem was to change numbers. To be fair to him, I never told him to stop asking me those questions.
    Please don’t ask why those innocuous questions where causing my brain to boil, I do not have the answers *in Kanye’s voice*

  13. Physio Tinu

    October 27, 2017 at 2:05 pm

    Hmmn… interesting perspective. As always, your articles make sense. I have slightly different thoughts about the matter. Maybe I’ll write and send to you Atoke.

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