We Africans have a wrong conception of development. Wehave been brainwashed to think of development only in terms of ‘catching up with the West.’ The problem is not in catching up, but in the fact that we seem to be catching up only with the wrong things: consuming western goods, western products, western culture, western food, western cloths, western theories, while throwing away ours.
Take the case of fast-food joints and the fast rate at which they are springing up everywhere. These food joints sell processed foods loaded with artificial spices and sweeteners. Even in the semi-rural areas, trees are being cut down to make space for the building of fast-food joints. Houses that were once inhabited by human beings are being turned to shops for selling of soft drinks, biscuits, snacks, bread, juices,etc. These products have one thing in common: they are products made from wheat flour and sugar.
The variety of juice drinks are enormous. They come in various bottle shapes and sizes, colour and flavour, all made of water, sugar, colouring,and flavours. Parents prepare their children for school by loading their school bags with these snacks: canned or bottled drinks, chinchin, biscuits, bread,etc.
It is strange that no one in the government circle is talking about the health risks of these new trends which people associate with ‘development.’ The Nigerian government does not even have an agency (or is there any in existence?) that certifies the hygiene, safety and quality of these foods, neither are there agencies that inspect the environment and kitchen conditions of the countless restaurants and fast-food joints springing up every day, which is the practice in the so-called developed countries that we are trying to imitate.
I was discussing this with a medical officer recently,and he argued that people are free to eat anything they like; that it is part of human freedom, and that what matters is to have a good healthcare system in place to cure people when they fall sick. It is Ok for an individual to hold such personal opinion. The danger is that if such a person gets to be appointed toa position of authority or become a policy maker, which my medical officer friend may well become someday, then the danger is enormous.
Some people may argue that there is nothing wrong with eating bread, after all, the popular Lagos Agege bread has been a regular delicacy inLagos state for many years, and many who ate it every day are not sick. A very important point to raise, and an opportunity to make a very important clarification. The Agege bread of 20 years ago is not made from the same flour as we have today. In the past twenty years, modern science has altered the genetic structure of wheat, in the bid to make then grow easily and more commercially viable.
This species of wheat has now been introduced into all processed foods. The Agege bread of the 1960s and 1970s till the 1980s was made from a healthier species of wheat, while the current strains are products of genetic alteration. They have a very adverse effect on your health: It is no wonder that cases of diabetes, cancer and hypertension abounds today in our society, both in the cities and in the villages. Well, that is the price we pay for ‘development.’ Let me warn you, if you are diabetic, wheat and wheat products are the most dangerous food you can ever eat. Stay away from them.
Recently, research in the United Kingdom (UK) concluded that poor children have been fatter than rich ones since around the 1980s. But over the past decade, the rich have started to slim down, as the poor have got bigger. Why is this so? It was discovered that fast-food shops are often filled with school children from poorer families, where they get cheap, spicy and tasty junk foods, which make them put on weight. These foods are tasty but contain very little nourishments. It is hard to escape unhealthy food in the poorer neighbourhoods, the research stated. Posters in supermarkets and on bus-stops display deals for fizzy drinks and burgers. Newsagents’ doorways glitter with packets of sweets and crisps. Even a church, converted from a bingo hall, has a snack-dispensing vending machine in its lobby.
The children of Camberwell Green,a London suburb, it was noted, are among the fattest in England. Half of ten- and 11-year-olds there are overweight or obese (meaning that a boy of average height would weigh over 40kg). By contrast, in Dulwich Village, a few miles south, where household incomes are twice as high, only a fifth of children are in that category, one of the lowest levels in the country. The reason is that the rich and well educated are best placed to act on the knowledge of the benefits of natural and organic food. They have more time to cook healthy meals at home and are more likely than poor folk to live near green spaces, join sports clubs and patronise organic foods shops. The rate at which fast-foods spread in the poorer areas is three times higher than in the richer areas.
In a highly populated are likeLagos, you will notice a high growth of fast-food joints and supermarkets in poorer suburbs and even slums. The target is poor customers, who want cheap and tasty food, which are not so healthy. So even among the so-called poor in Nigeria, obesity has become a problem.
In fact, the paradox now is that the rich are getting slimmer, while the poor are getting fatter. If your health is important, stick to the old village wisdom of cooking your own food and stay with the traditional Nigeria delicacy of pounded Yam, Garri, Amala, Apu, local rice, Beans, Palm oil, Cocoyam, Sweet potatoes,Green vegetables and local spices. Replacing our traditional food with French fries, pizzas, pies, wheat, semolina, cornflakes, sweets, ice-creams, chocolate and other processed food is bad for your health. I rest my case.
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