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Feature Article of Saturday, 14 January 2012

Columnist: Sakyi, Kwesi Atta

Ghanaian Eating Habits – Time for Reform, Consolidation or Globalisation?

By Kwesi Atta Sakyi 1st January 2012

Introduction

It is said that you are what you eat and a sound mind is found in a sound body. What is a sound body? A body which is mentally, socially, spiritually and physically nourished through education, social intercourse and socialization, spiritual edification through worship, and maintaining the physique through physical exercise and healthy eating, healthy lifestyle and balanced living. Some people make fetish out of good eating habits as they aver that food is a form of medication for the body and you are what you eat. There are some people out there who believe that eating the right regimen of food is a sure way of avoiding diseases or eradicating toxic radicals from the digestive and alimentary canal. Hedonists, epicureans, gourmands or gourmets are people who are pleasure-seekers and food lovers. There are religions which, on the other hand, teach abstinence from heavy foods and binge eating. These are mostly from the Eastern countries and they recommend fasting or being a vegetarian or fruitarian, among others. There are the Rastafarians for example, who are vegetarians. Interestingly, well-heeled or well off people who indulge themselves in orgies of binge eating of junk food and over-rich dishes and meals, such as fried bacons, scotched eggs, sausages, ham, butter, cheese and the like, suffer from diseases such as cancer, high blood pressure, stroke, heart attack and allied ailments. Some of these ailments could of course be put down to other causes such as job stress or executive burnout, sedentary activities and habits, heredity and unhealthy lifestyles such as chain smoking, heavy drinking, excessive womanizing, among others.

Healthy Eating Habits

Some poor people stay healthy because they eat low fat, natural and wholesome foods such as leafy green vegetables, snails, fruits, prawns, shrimps, oysters, crabs, some species of crickets, lobsters, green plantain, beans, nuts and other life-supporting foods which are rich in protein, vitamins, essential oils and minerals, carbohydrates, among others. In Ghana, many people have forsaken our rich traditional cholesterol-free foods and are gravitating towards western foods. It is wrong to assume that healthy eating is synonymous with being rich and eating out at posh and expensive restaurants and eateries, whose foods are often saturated with unnatural monosodium glutamate, the main cause of obesity. In this vein, home cooking and eating home is healthy, if it can be afforded. Many people on the go, with hectic work schedules in MNCs, banks and factories, get very little time to cook for themselves, let alone eat healthy and stay healthy. Many urban dwellers in Ghana eat less chlorophyll, which is plentiful in cocoyam leaves, amaranthus, pumpkin and cassava leaves, cabbage, lettuce, lentils and sweet potato leaves. Leafy greens are eaten much in Northern and Upper Ghana, as well as by those from the Volta Region. It is high time other regions borrowed a leaf from their Northern and Volta neighbours. Okras are said to be a great source of iron, along with green plantains and some species of leafy vegetables. In Ghana, we cherish less our rich sources of proteins such as our pumpkin seeds (egusi or akatsewa), black-eyed beans, bambara beans or cowpeas or bambara groundnuts (aboboye), butternut beans, among others. We should also here mention that groundnuts are a veritable source of food values as they contain fats, carbohydrate and proteins. Boiled green plantains, cocoyam leaf sauce or amaranthus leaf sauce are healthy foods which we must promote in our homes. Also, it is much healthier to depend on fish diet rather than on livestock products such as pork and beef. Of course, white meats are thought to be better such as home-bred chickens, rabbits, ducks, guinea fowls and pheasants. The Japanese and Chinese live mostly on fish and their culturally-determined foods. We in Ghana should be proud of our delicious, delectable and inimitable cuisines, which we can market as international cuisine to attract tourists. Our foods are part of our rich cultural heritage. Fancy a plate of mashed yam balls with fried fish fillets or a plate of fried ripe plantain with cocoyam leaf sauce and beans, laced with rich palm oil, popularly called ‘Black Star’ or ‘Attempt All’ in Ghana. We should write our food recipes into recipe books for sale to tourists. Our local foods such as apapransa, yakayaka, aky3k3, kaakro, tatare, boodoo, yok3 gari, asanku, epitsi, esaato and the rest can be widely marketed to our foreign visitors and served on the yet to be established Ghana Airways/Airlines/Air Ghana. We should encourage cooking competitions among the youth to expose them to our rich traditional meals/dishes which show our culinary prowess. We should hold food-fairs and encourage teaching of our traditional dishes to our boys and girls. We can establish cookery schools solely to teach Ghanaian dishes to foreigners and whoever is interested to learn more about our Ghanaian culture. We can begin packaging some of our foods for export to earn us some foreign exchange. Already, some effort has been made in this direction but more is yet to be done to create jobs for our youth. We cannot here forget the illustrious and pioneering work of Nkulenu Industries.

Globalisation

We now live in a global village of interdependence and cultural diffusion, with global products being highly standardized. Thus, whether in Accra or Abuja or Nairobi, we come across the same standards in KFC, Subway, McDonalds, Debonairs and Steers eateries. What do we in Ghana have to offer by way of innovative local dishes which can go global? We need to pursue aggressive marketing of our dishes to make them world class. Much depends on ourselves as Ghanaians, leading by example. We should follow the Chinese, Indian and Thai restaurants, which have gone global.

Conclusion

My favourite Ghanaian dishes are omo tuo (tuo zelefi) and groundnut soup or fufu and light soup. I also enjoy pounded cocoyam plus kontomire soup with dryfish and snails. Sometimes, I also enjoy fried fish, shito and Fante kenkey or banku. Our Ghanaian dishes are part of our inherited legacy. Let us cherish them and eat them. Let us promote them wherever we are. We should promote organic foods which are grown with natural compost or manure, rather than with fertilizers. We should avoid too much sugar-saturated foods, polished foods, animal fats, butter, and carbohydrate-dominated meals. We should aim at balanced diets which are holistic, inexpensive and healthy. We should avoid white sugar, polished grains such as the imported white flour and rice. We should encourage and promote diets rich in fibre, vitamins, iodine, potassium, iron and minerals such as amino acids. We should eat more green vegetables, fruits, nuts, carrots, groundnuts, fish oils (cod liver oil, rich in Omega 4), beans and okra. Footballers, athletes and sportsmen and women are advised to eat less chilli or hot pepper. However, pepper which is very hot is said to be good for preventing colon cancer and aiding digestion and boosting the body’s immune system. Other spices such as alligator pepper, ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon are highly recommended in the diet as they help to clean the system and whet the appetite. It is the belief of some people that spices could make you consume a lot of food and hence, lead to the onset of obesity. Therefore, spices are to be taken in moderation. Let us continue taking some lemons/lime in our tea and drink a cup of raw tomato syrup a day. These help to thin you. Of course, it is not to the point of being anorexic. Also use honey as a substitute for highly processed white sugar. It is sad to note that life expectancies in Ghana have fallen from 63years and 68years for males and females respectively to 54 years and 62 years (cf. WHO, 2008). While growing up in the 60s, I was fond of roasted plantain and groundnuts, Hausa Kooko made from finger millets, koose, agidi, waakye and yok3 gari. Avocado pears, bananas, pineapples and mangoes are plentiful in Ghana, especially in the forest zone, yet people look down on them. Let us get our act right by balancing our needs to make sure that food moves from surplus areas to deficit areas, and also we grow enough crops in our backyards for home consumption and healthy eating as well as to guarantee food security in Ghana.. Happy New Year to you all. Stay Healthy. Eat healthy.

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