What Shall We Eat and Drink?


Saturday letter1

Our food is what is responsible for the efficient functioning of our physiology and mental faculties. Of course, we don’t live to eat but eat to live. We are what we eat and do not. Therefore, apart from feeling a kind of sensation from seeing those videos and pictures of herdsmen copulating with some of the animals we eat as food, we were certain that it was about time to take stock, and arrive at certain quick decisions concerning what we should henceforth eat and don’t.

But taking that decision is not going to be any easy one, and that is considering the fact that very close alternative to beef – fish – are in awful straits as well.  In recent times, the world was shocked to learn that a gray whale that died off the coast of Seattle in the US had more than 20 plastic bags, a golf ball and sundry plastic materials inside it. A report of the United Nations cited by the Pew Charitable Trust, says that at least 800 species up to 13 million metric tons of plastic end up in the oceans every year, affecting over 800 species worldwide.  ‘Fish, seabirds, sea turtles, and marine mammals can become entangled in or ingest plastic debris, causing suffocation, starvation, and drowning’, the Pew report has said.

But how does fish ingesting plastic affect the average consumer you may want to ask. First is the fact that plastic is non-biodegradable. Bury it in any substance or in the ground, it remains there for as long as 10 years and more. And when it ends up in our food it is carcinogenic. Part of the plastic problem in fish is not restricted to seafood. There was a research carried out in the University of Benin, to determine the degree to which plastic can be found in catfish – a preferred alternative to ‘ice fish’.  Results indicated that even more than the iced fish, the catfish had more plastic particles than fish from the high seas. The scientists arrived at that result by studying the processes involved in the breeding and cultivation of the fish, to discover that from being a fingerling to ‘adulthood’, the fish are bred in plastic containers. Then they took specimens from several catfish ponds and burnt then to ashes.  Upon pouring the ashes in water, they discovered that there were plastic particles all over the water.

So we may run away from fish and meat and maybe stick to chicken. Yet, chicken, bred for industrial purposes, together with their eggs have lost the taste that chicken used to have when we were children. The chicken is big yet tastes like yam, and the egg yolk has a very pale yellow colouration. You crack an egg and the albumen that flows out is more like water than the sticky goo we knew back then. If under these circumstances, we decide to adopt a vegetarian diet to remain free of cancer and the pervading illnesses that strike us intermittently, it would be being wise. However, there is a but. And it is that adopting a vegetarian diet, at least until some solution can be found with the fish and meat issues today, does not help much. Nearly every vegetable we eat today has been inorganically cultivated – rice, beans, yam, tomato, plantain and cassava, pepper, vegetables – everything. What makes it worse is that breakthroughs in science have altered the processes from a photosynthetic to a biosynthetic one, with a corresponding effect on our state of health.

Most of today’s foods and fruits are being genetically modified. This article does not want to get into the legality or illegality of what those big corporations that specialize in producing GMOs seek to achieve with their experiments but just to enlighten Nigerians that we need to be much more circumspect with what we throw into our systems. Recently there was a report by Premium Times that NAFDAC had ordered a recall of batches of a popular brand of bottle water.  Now as the story goes, many consumers reported cases of impurities in the water and thereby forced the water bottling company to recall certain batches of that water. Even though the company assures Nigerians that the problem has been solved, how do Nigerians cope with dangerous chemicals like Snipper being used as preservatives for beans and crayfish? Who in their right elements would continue to eat kpomo knowing that they are usually preserved with chemicals like formaldehyde typically used for embalming the dead?

The other day, I bought a drink, a Guinness stout. As I was not an avid drinker myself, I had no way of identifying if there were fake Guinness beer or not until a good friend pointed out that my drink was fake. It is the same with nearly all the bottles of soft drinks out there to the extent that unwary Nigerians continue to pick up one disease or the other from consuming food and drink subject to the vicissitudes of science, the bestial inclinations of handlers of our beef and the brutal unscrupulousness of the greedy.

All of this is the result of the failure of governance and of the institutions that regulate foods, drugs and drinks. I recall some time back in a European city seeking to buy chicken for dinner. I found out that nearly all the chicken, even though the same size had different price tags. When I asked the store assistant why this was so, she told me that there were three kinds of chicken in the refrigerator – the organic, inorganic and the genetically modified. According to her, customers often buy chicken based on preferences clearly spelt out on the goods to be purchased, and are closely regulated by the system. She told me as well that most Europeans hardly eat rice knowing that 90% of it has been genetically modified, to be fed in a silo with pig and cow dung to produce gas.

 Bob MajiriOghene Etemiku, deputy executive director Civil Empowerment & Rule of Law Support Initiative