Friday, 14 January 2011


 Early this week it was reported how potato farmers in Mbeya called for authorities to lend money to make their work easier.
In recent years potato farming in the country has become significant because of the growing interest in eating chips. One farmer, Christopher Joram called for soil experts to give professional advice on how to improve farming methods. 
“For example we need soil experts to tell us whether the ground is suitable for potatoes today or the future,” Mr. Joram told Mwananchi, “we need to know which fertiliser is good for a particular soil.”
I find this story interesting for several reasons but mainly the chips thing. A few decades ago chips was never considered an investment for East African food traders.  When I used to be a reporter for Uhuru in the 1970’s we would save money by eating in cheap places (called Magenge au Mama Ntilie) around the then Pugu Road (nowadays Nyerere Road). On the menu were rice, beans and beef with a cup of tea or Ugali (maize meal) accompanied by similar protein portions.  <!--more-->
If you were working in more affluent areas in the city centre and decide to have lunch at New Africa Hotel or Motel Agip instead of tea you would have a cold beer with your meal. The Ugali business would be slightly sophisticated i.e. a less portion and pre ordered.
On both occasions, chips were inconspicuous.
There was the middle ground, too. I remember a Swahili restaurant right in Kariakoo where the range of dishes was so incredible that the place was always packed. Likewise, chips were not on the menu. Come night time and if you were out dancing and drinking you would find roadside cooks selling fried eggs (Macho ya Ng’ombe) and roasted corn (Mahindi ya Kuchoma).
Twenty years later in mid 1990’s the landscape had changed and now roasted meat (Nyama Choma) dominated the scene. The quest for meals using lots of fried oils was rising due to the free market economy and by 2007, excessive fermented oiling had become the norm. I remember many Tanzanians living overseas returning from holidays and complaining how natural foods in Tanzania were becoming a rarity.
The invasion of chips and chicken is part of the fast food phenomenon, internationally due to changing life styles and globalisation.  It has been influenced partly by the get rich quickly mentality of capitalism and also by disappearance of the housewife or “woman at home” culture. Since women work and no longer stay home and cook, a new industry for working people and those with no time to make proper food has developed. Unfortunately most of this food is made en masse, to suit the occasion rather than for good health. As a result many young people world wide, unaccustomed to family cooking have accepted this diet as a way of life.
 Fish and chips were originally invented in the UK in the 19th century. Tasty to eat while on the move; either walking after late night drinking or at the beach while on holiday, fantastic. The cooking is however made from deep fried oil added with flavourings (e.g. salt and tomato ketch-up) consequently not healthy if consumed too often.
Love of chips in Tanzania is mostly unregulated and when I visited home over a year ago I noted most roadside chips are made from oil that is repeatedly used. A scientist at the University of Dar es Salaam told me that although no research has been done, the effect of eating such food is beginning to be seen in obese and sick people.
Question is does the average Tanzania care about what they are eating?
A recent report about contaminated exported eggs from German farms has been highlighted in European media. The eggs are also used to make certain cakes and chocolates. Years ago when beef from the UK was alleged to be causing mad cow disease there a similar reaction. Consumers in developed countries are vigilant about what they eat. Government and trade regulations require food and bottled water sold in supermarkets to be labelled properly.
As a young developing society we are not used to monitor what we are eating especially if it is imported. We still feel that if something is coming from overseas it is probably, first class; therefore, better. That mentality has to start changing. Those who, luckily went to school, have to be more literate as far as food is concerned. This is part of the reading culture which is unfortunately beginning to vanish as fast as our dear classical “Mama Ntilie” cookery.

-London, Tuesday 11th January, 2011.
-Published in Citizen Tanzania, Thursday 13th Jan, 2011

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