Friday, August 13, 2021 12:02 am
By Chris Anyokwu
I suppose you have heard the popular saying: “you are what you eat”. Yes, it’s a truism you cannot fault. Funnily enough, we say of computers, “garbage in, garbage out”. This also holds true for humans as well. My Ika people say: “Ihien nne tay, ken wan yun/ It’s the food the mother feeds her child on, that the child defecates”. After all, the stomach is an ever-demanding god, crying “give me food, give me food.” But the question is: what food”? According to American psychologist, Abraham Harold Maslow (1908 – 1970). in his world-famous hierarchy of needs, human needs include physiological needs, safety needs, belonging and love needs, esteem needs, cognitive needs, aesthetic needs, self-actualisation and transcendence. For Marlow, as far as the physiological needs of humans are concerned, people generally need shelter, water, food, warmth, rest, and health. Thus no matter how well-connected and highly-placed you think you are; no matter how educated and powerful you imagine yourself to be, you just cannot do without these things, especially FOOD. And WATER. So whilst we are busy talking big grammar, dissecting convoluted and abstruse socio-economic and political theories and theorems; whilst we are indulging ourselves in rarified verbiage and abstract intellectualism, the type they traffic in the ivory towers and oak-panelled posh boardrooms and “situation rooms” of states, we must spare a thought for our “daily bread”. Come to think of it, is it not shocking that our politicians whose bounden duty it is to look out for our welfare and security, the common people, hardly bat an eyelid over what we consume?
The general impression they tend to create, in the main, is that people should know better than wolf down harmful comestibles or anything they know might kill them. They – the politicians – presume that, since the populace aren’t mad, they ought to be able to look out for themselves regarding their diet and nutrition. But experience has shown that it is not that simple and straightforward. In fact, it’s harebrained and asinine to suppose otherwise. And we must never be tired or weary of dinning it into the ears of power that the citizenry is like children in a family; the leaders, our politicians, are like their parents. Thus parental responsibility entails a holistic, all-embracing oversight regarding the wellness and wellbeing of all the members of the family. Ideally, this is what it should be like, although our family analogy in this connection is itself sadly problematic, considering that most families today are only so-called in name. The bonds of kin such as fellow-feeling, love, care, affection, empathy, and assistance are all gone out of most homes. The Biblical prophecy that members of one’s household shall be one’s enemies is being fulfilled right before our eyes (Matt. 10: 36). Now, it’s a pitched battle in the family: father versus son, mother versus daughter, brother versus brother, and sister versus sister. Sometimes, these blood relatives feud and duel unto death. However, this is a story for another day. Today we are talking food. Has it ever struck you or has it ever occurred to you that the alarming rise in mortality rates is not simply due to the prevalence of the Covid-19 alone? Have you stopped to wonder why even young people who are supposed to be brimming with life are also dying in great numbers? Are you aware that young people are also down with various health issues and psychosomatic complications such as high blood pressure, rheumatism, arthritis and organ malfunction/failure (such as liver, kidneys, lungs, throat, eyes and ears)?
Some of the health issues are so serious and so severe that they threaten the reproductive capabilities of both sexes, notably the female. For so many spinsters and married women, fibroid is a major concern, for instance. What’s worse, the trending brouhaha over mental health issues (MHIs) is, to a great degree, traceable to issues of food and nutrition, of poor diet with its abhorrent spin-offs. I find it particularly galling and absolutely heartbreaking each time any part of our country is shown on TV, especially on offshore, satellite cable TV. You are always assaulted and assailed by footage of mass impoverishment. You see a sea of kwashiorkored tiny-tots, spindly-legged youth, and otherwise beautiful women looking gaunt, gnarled and wiry; mere bags of bones. And the men? They normally look a little better than mangy stray dogs foraging dumps for offal. But beyond this, talking about available foodstuffs, the question remains: how edible are they; how safe-to-be-eaten are they? Consider this scenario: you go to the local market to purchase groceries and allied foodstuffs such as garri (farina), rice, plantains, bananas, garden eggs, tomatoes, vegetables and poultry products. On the surface, these food items all look attractive, good enough for consumption. And you promptly make purchases and go home to prepare meals for the family. What do you discover while eating the meal? The garri is of poor quality; the rice is bad, nothing like the rice you used to eat in the past. The tomatoes simply smart, almost tart to taste. The vegetables are almost completely tasteless, merely oozing insipid taste. The fruits are worse. Even when they appear fresh and healthy and juicy, they are a different thing when you put them into your buccal cavity. Completely tasteless! And you begin to worry: who grew these farm produce? How are these food items grown? These pawpaws, pears, oranges, watermelons, cucumbers, cabbages, grapes, etc. How are they grown and by whom? Are they grown the normal way? That is, the way Agricultural Science told us in those days that they should be grown? What role, crucially, do chemicals play in the production, harvesting, processing and storage of these food items? Do the farmers use fertilizers and what type of fertilizers do they grow their crops (food and cash crops) with? Do we have any recognised and functional institutional framework or supervisory mechanism for this life-and-death matter of the stomach? In a word, which government agency or agencies is/are constitutionally or statutorily responsible for our “Item 7”? Or is it a matter of you-see-food-chop-you-still-dey-complain? How about the execrable and deleterious consequences of guzzling unhealthy food and drink?
Some amateur videos circulating on social media show some mean-hearted, unscrupulous elements doing funny things to the foodstuffs they are purportedly selling to unsuspecting customers. For example: some dirty-looking roguish characters were shown washing fruits with gutter water; a woman was shown dipping fruits into her genitalia and displaying same for sales; other footage showed some guys injecting God-knows-what into the foodstuffs they are vending while others were seen spitting on or spraying their wares with insecticides and pesticides such as suicides’ favourite, sniper. Incredibly, the grains we consume such as rice, beans millet, sorghum, and corn are already chemically compromised and, hence, unfit for human consumption. To top it all, some of those who are in the business of animal husbandry do practise bestiality with their livestock. Decency advises reticence on this score but suffice it to say diners run a great risk of contracting deadly diseases by eating infected meat. To be sure, in some restaurants, bars, and motels, human parts are allegedly sold to foodies without they suspecting a thing. It might sound far-fetched but some of these stories are there on YouTube for verification. There is no telling what extent people are prepared to go and are prepared to do in order to make quick money. In these matters, cash is king. All told, I think it’s about time we had a national conversation on/around the food crisis in Nigeria. And some of the talking-points must include the use and abuse of genetically-modified produce, especially foodstuffs. We must address the problem of poor storage facilities for food items. We must also address the question of the role of fertilizers in the production process. How good are the so-called fertilizers deployed in crop production in Nigeria? Are they natural like manure from cow dung or are they artificial? Do we have functional agencies helping in regulating these agricultural activities? Any institutional framework with which food production is strictly regulated? What are NAFDAC and SON, for instance, doing in all of this, beyond the issuance of licences to people to flood our markets with “pure gutter”, nay, pure water and other dubious articles of trade?
Who checks our beef, mutton, pork, poultry and dairy products? Are they certified fit for public consumption before they are displayed in shops, stores and markets for sale? Who goes to hotels, bukas, Mama Puts, corner-shops and bars and restaurants to taste food and drinks before they are served to the public, as was the practice in the ‘70s and ‘80s? The roadside Akara, fried yam, meat fillets, doughnuts, meatpies, egg-rolls, yoghurt and juice, who certify them healthy enough for consumption? What, indeed, does it take to get a NAFDAC licence? Who regulate the regulators? Who govern the government? We must think long and hard about these issues including the attendant dangers street trading does to the environment and human life in the last analysis. We cannot afford to discount the importance of working to safeguard public health, since, as the saying goes, health is wealth.
Chris Anyokwu, PhD, writes from University of Lagos