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Opinions of Tuesday, 19 June 2007

Columnist: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi

Eating Ghanaian/African Food is Good for You

Kofi Akosah-Sarpong ponders on Ghanaian Health Minister, Courage Quashigah's suggestion that Ghanaian/African traditional food is good for health

Ghanaian Health Minister, Mr. Courage Quashigah, for long in the forefront of the "African Renaissance" process, has been attempting to awaken Africans to their superb values in their development process. And nowhere is this notable than being healthy through eating healthy traditional food in the broader development process. The sense here is touting how good traditional Ghanaian/African food is, not only in the global context where Ghanaian/African traditional food is not featured prominently, compared to some Southeast Asian traditional food, but also in the context of the health care delivery system in Africa's progress.

Quashigah's campaigns for balanced nutrition by consuming healthy traditional Ghanaian food, as a bulwark against "preventing ill health," is as vital as curative measures in the face of severe inadequate health infrastructure. Such observation comes in the face of similar admonitions in Japan, a country fascinated by Ghanaians/ for their ability to mix their traditional values with the dominant Western neo-liberal ones in their development process. As Quashigah complains, some Japanese elites think their country's traditional healthy food is giving way to the fatty Western food. Bryan Walsh, in article in the US-based "Time" magazine (June 06, 2007) entitled "Lamenting the Decline of the Home-Cooked Meal in Japan," makes the case that despite Japanese traditional food emphasizing "the balance of nutrition" and "need to have fish, vegetables, soup at every meal," pretty much of healthy Japanese meal "prepared by mother and eaten on tatami mat by the entire family," as is the case with traditional Ghanaian homes, is declining. Drawing parallel from Japanese nutritionists and public officials concern, Quashigah echoes the same concerns that with the ascendancy of Western fatty food globally, Ghanaians are increasingly drifting from their healthy traditional food that "cures for ailments" and "that one could take to minimise the occurrence of diseases."

As the world becomes more interdependent, there are corresponding inherent problems normally associated with the inappropriate mixing of cultures because of their glitter, as Quashigah and the Japanese blame the decline of their traditional "diet on the arrival of Western fast-food chains over the past several decades." This is driven by the pull and push of cultures - the uninformed Ghanaian thinks drinking the American exported "Coca Cola" and "French fries" are cool and eating less their healthier traditional food is equally cool. As an Asante, I am not brought up eating heavily fried foods - my Caucasian Canadian doctors tell me to go the Asante way and not to eat too much Western fatty-rich food because they are not good for my health. A Nigerian told me that the World Health Organization (WHO) says Nigerians (more those from the southern part of the country) are among the people with the best eye-sight in the world because they eat more of their native green vegetables and palm oil.

The lessons here are that Ghanaian indigenous foods, with its heavy emphasis on green vegetables, like the famed healthy Arab/Mediterranean foods, are among one of the healthiest in the world. Japanese nutritionists and health experts are worried that "millions of Japanese schoolchildren grew up eating like their American counterparts, while the government told their parents that traditional Japanese food was nutritionally deficient." Quashigah has sensed this Japanese trend in Ghana and has cautioned professional caterers against the use of unwholesome foodstuff and ingredients as a way of cutting down cost and making enormous profits for themselves. He said using unwholesome ingredients for food, posed great danger to the Ghanaian health, as this could lead to food contamination or poisoning, and urged health and quality control inspectors to intensify monitoring, to ensure that caterers did not compromise quality for the sake of commercialization. The contention is not unchecked global commercialization has twisted Ghanaians thinking against their healthy traditional food norms but Ghanaians have been blinded, through the misappropriation of Western foods, to demean their healthy traditional food.

For sometime, there are worries by Ghanaian health experts and nutritionists that consumption of healthy traditional Ghanaian/African food is declining, while intake of fatty Western food has increased. This is against worsening private and public sanitation situation country-wide. Ghanaian children are increasingly becoming confused about the benefit of their traditional foods and Western fatty ones. Inadequate public health information is responsible. Quashigah's touting of the importance of nutrition as part of the general health care delivery system do not prominently raise the health benefits of Ghanaian traditional foods, especially "developing a new curriculum that would incorporate nutrition in the training of health professionals in order to promote good feeding." If such best practices are mixed with the objectives of the United Nations anti-poverty venture Millennium Development Goals it will deepen Ghanaians' health. The unhealthy food consumption is scarier even at health centres: Quashigah observes that even in hospitals there are problems of families entering with "different foods," most times the Western fatty foods, some of which often worsened patients' health situations due to their poor nutritional and fatty contents."

Like the Japanese, against the back drop of Ghanaians caught up at increasing work, traditional family pressures, schooling, and mounting pressures of poverty, Ghanaians are having problems going for "balanced, healthy traditional meals" not only prepared at home but traditionally eaten with the family. No doubt, Quashigah has advised caterers, more trained in Western schools than Ghanaian ones, to consider the introduction of indigenous healthy Ghanaian dishes, not only for its "higher nutritional values," but as source of medicine, as the Chinese will tell you, against the Western ones, "most of which led to obesity, diabetes and heart problems."



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