On Losing Money by Eating Beef

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GUEST COLUMNIST BY MAHMUD JEGA

If you pluck money out of your pocket, hand it over to a butcher in exchange for a kilo of beef, with which you thoroughly enrich your soup, will you later on count the money as lost?
That was precisely what Ondo State Governor Rotimi Akeredolu implied last week when he said Nigeria’s Southwest region loses N2.5 billion everyday to beef consumption. He didn’t say so, but implied that all that money flees to the North, ancestral home of the pastoralists. Akeredolu described beef consumption as the “bedrock of poverty” in the Southwest, never mind that the region has the lowest poverty indices in Nigeria.

Let us begin with this word “lose.” If money vanishes from your pocket without your getting anything worthwhile in return, that is obviously a loss. But if on your own you give out your money in exchange for something that you obviously think is worth it, how does that amount to a loss?

For many years, Nigerian leaders promoted this notion of a “loss” for monies consciously spent on valuable items. “Nigeria loses billions to rice imports,” “Nigeria loses billions to milk imports,” “Nigeria loses billions to fuel imports,” “Nigeria loses billions to medical tourism.” I wonder: if you pack your money and give it out to a Japanese engineer, and he in turn sends a bus over to you with which you ply a route in return for passengers’ money, how does that amount to losing your money to Nippon?

The Japanese engineer who got your money in exchange for the bus is also going to lose it, variously to Arabian oil exporters, Argentine wheat farmers, Australian cattle ranchers, Chinese prawn fishermen, Korean whale catchers, French wine makers, American fashion designers, Cuban cigar makers, Siberian beluga farmers and Spanish seaside hotel owners. All money circulates and revolves. Money in itself has no value until it is exchanged for something valuable. Just make sure that you make a certain good or service so that some of the money revolves back to you.

To be fair, Nigerian leaders talk about “losing money” in relation to buying something from abroad that we could otherwise make here at home or at least, that we have a ready substitute for. I agree that importing refined fuel is a colossal loss of money since we can refine crude oil here at home, as we used to. Importing ship loads of Thai parboiled rice could count as a loss when you have millions of acres of suitable paddy fields lying fallow.

Governor Akeredolu is the first person I know who spoke about loss in relation to other parts of the country. Since he is chairman of the Southern Governors Forum, his call for an end to beef consumption in the Southwest was probably an extension of the campaign to chase pastoralists out of the South and if possible, off the face of the earth as well.

The criminal behaviour of some pastoral youths notwithstanding, beef is an extremely important food, a protein source almost without equal in this and many other parts of the world. A good part of the health and vigour of the people of the Southwest could be attributed to beef consumption. All the hardworking mechanics, bus drivers, construction workers and market women, not to mention bankers, lawyers and engineers, take a break every afternoon to eat swallow with a lot of beef and ponmo. If people only eat cassava in order to preserve their money, very soon they may not be able to stand up inside a molue.

Did it ever occur to you why India, with 1.3 billion people, is almost totally bereft of world-class athletes in anything other than cricket? At one Olympic Games after another, India manages to grab one or two bronze medals. During the country’s 50th Independence Anniversary in 1997, one Indian professor mulled over this question and attributed it to the country’s beef-free vegetarian diet. If that is true, then Southwestern states will soon fall to the bottom of the medals table at the National Sports Festival once Akeredolu’s idea is widely implemented.

My fear for Governor Akeredolu’s unguarded remark is that it could precipitate other regional leaders to undertake a soul search about money they may be “losing” by “importing” products from other parts of the country. I can imagine the Governor of Kano State, for example, having a soul search about kolanut. Kola is not grown anywhere in the North but every day, merchants bring it in hundreds of trucks from the Southwest. They have been doing so for hundreds of years; in the olden days they went as far as Gonja to bring kola nuts on donkeys. That is because kola nut occupies a pride of place in Hausa marriages, naming ceremonies, turbanning of emirs and just plain welcome for visitors. If Kano State were to compute the losses it suffers due to kolanut imports from Ondo State, it could amount to billions.

Product for product, kolanut is much less valuable than beef. During my undergraduate course in food and nutrition, my teacher Dr. Roman Tertil, from Poland, was discussing hard-to-digest food material. He frowned darkly when he mentioned kolanut, which he said is less than 10% digestible! I wondered that day: you go to Ondo State, pay money and expensively transport a product that is only 10% digestible? Beef, on the other hand, is mostly digestible and within hours, ends up building body tissues and organs and repairing damage and injury to the body.

I have other news for Governor Akeredolu, who proposed that the people of Southwest should stop eating beef and instead eat chicken, which can be reared in the region. Well, I tried that ten years ago. Not as a political or economic statement but because a doctor at the National Hospital ordered me to cut consumption of red meat in order to control my blood cholesterol levels. A dietician then recommended that I eat fish and chicken instead. I happily went to the market and bought 30 fowls at a go. Apart from the much higher cost, I discovered within a week that I could not eat either fish or chicken two or three times a day without getting very fed up. I asked two colleagues at the office and they said they had the same experience. Maybe it does not apply to everybody.

That Ondo people, and many other people as well, made cows and their meat the center of ceremonies over many generations must be for a good reason. Beef is one of the single biggest sources of protein, which helps to improve muscle mass, is very satiating, discourages food cravings, is packed with amino acids and is extremely rich in minerals. Beef is one of the highest sources of carnosine. Carnosine helps prevent iron deficiency anemia, which WHO says afflicts 1.62 billion people throughout the world. Beef also contains the performance enhancer creatine, which improves exercise performance, assists in muscle growth and development, provides muscles with greater energy supply and improves endurance.

Apart from its great taste and relatively cheap price, tying a cow in your yard days before a ceremony is the best way to advertise the event. It is a much better advert than printed invitation cards. Many people will turn up at the ceremony uninvited because they heard the mooing of the cow at night. I wonder if the clucking of chicken or the splashing about of fish in a bowl with achieve as much impact.

Anyway, Governor Akeredolu hit on the idea of banishing beef consumption in the Southwest because his campaign to legalise marijuana cultivation failed to get national traction. Imagine what will happen if people of the Southwest stop eating beef and smoke marijuana instead. How can a man who saw nothing wrong with smoking Indian hemp, take exception to eating beef? If it is to prevent loss of money, is there a faster way to lose money than for it to go out in a puff of Indian hemp smoke? Indian hemp makes its smokers very hungry, so legalizing it will double the Southwest’s food import bill, not to mention its medical bills. If someone one day sues Governor Akeredolu for igniting the mayhem, no amount of legal jargon will extricate this SAN from the tight spot.