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Opinions of Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Columnist: Akatue, Rebecca Y.

The Ghanaian's Eating Habits

Some Ghanaians have a weird appetite for food and would eat anything regardless of the source of the food. Some are careful though and would not try any unfamiliar food.

With holidays approaching, it is only fair to share with readers my views on food and our eating habits to avoid having an undesirable experience at Christmas.

An interesting story about fufu, written by Kofi Akpabli sometime during the year, touched on the social aspect of eating fufu, for example. He went further to tell us how Ghanaians would go the length and breadth to enjoy fufu irrespective of how it is prepared.

The unhygienic ways of preparing fufu, that most of us enjoy was not the focus, probably because the writer wanted to save fufu lovers from losing interest in their “idol.”

Stories have been told in the past of how some Ghanaian soldiers on peace keeping operations in Lebanon used Irish potatoes to make fufu in blending machines and other equipment. Accompanying the Irish potato fufu is peanut butter soup (groundnut soup), the one that contains sugar more than the recommended daily allowance (RDA) and popular among the Europeans. Boiled Irish potatoes are at least gentle on the stomach than the pounded tubers (cassava, yam, and cocoyam) which is also more laborious to prepare.

Others will also eat banku with beans soup, kenkey with ‘bitter leaf soup’, and ‘akrantie’ faeces with nkotomire soup or bat (dankwasre) light soup with “konkote”, etc- Some weird combinations, huh?

Whatever the reason, it is all about what you like, so long as there is monosodium to enhance the taste of the food. Unlike homosexuality, there is no national outcry against the type of food one chooses to eat. After all, they own their stomachs. But that is not to say there is no national concern about the safety of the food that we eat.

Cholera is not alien in Ghana. At least we are still battling with the preventable disease, which visits us annually at periods we welcome. Most of the regions across the country have experienced an episode of cholera during the year under review. Health promotion activities and education to curb cholera outbreak are being carried out by the Accra Metropolitan Assembly, NADMO, Public Health Institutions, School Health Education Programme (SHEP) among others after the recent floods.

Washing of hands with soap and clean water and proper disposal of refuse in our homes, communities and the cities are among the most highlighted sanitation issues. Education is also ongoing among food vendors, sachet water producers, community members and the entire population.

It appears, however, that the battle against the menace of cholera has not been impressive, especially on the part of individuals, communities and the cities because every now and then, cholera resurfaces in one community or another, and the same campaigns are propagated all across the country all over again.

My worry is that it appears Ghanaians do not consider cholera as important as any other fatal disease, and for that matter, less attention is given to our individual hygienic practices and the community as a whole. More resources have recently been diverted to managing this highly preventable disease much to the detriment of other diseases.

In a presentation by the Greater Accra public health unit of the Korle-bu Teaching Hospital during the cholera outbreak some time during the year, it was revealed that some people, who were diagnosed with cholera, said they took tea, sachet water, there were also those who took some food with pepper, etc. Until recently, I did not know that taking tea or “koko” could give you cholera or acute abdominal pains. But recent surveys in the metropolis have shown that some client developed cholera or acute abdominal pains after drinking tea or “koko”.

This shows that perhaps the water used is either not from a good source or was not boiled adequately to kill all the germs. Some hold the view that, for a perfect Hausa koko for example, the boiling time must be reduced. It, therefore, means that “koko” or tea sellers should use very clean water as well.

Vegetables often used by food vendors and at home should be properly washed. Vegetables such as tomatoes, pepper and cabbage may look good on the surface but when cut open, they may appear mouldy or completely decayed!

Most Ghanaians like “take away foods” whether at funerals, parties or meetings. Considering our hot climatic conditions, unstable electricity supplies, poor water storage/ sources, our unreliable refrigeration systems, it is not advisable to “take away meals” only to eat it hours later. The colder the food, the more likely it is to get contaminated when the storage facility is questionable. Let us cultivate the habit of eating the food when it is hot and at the same place that we are served.

I personally do not encourage dishing out food as “take always”. If you cannot eat when lunch or dinner is served, it only means two things: either you are not hungry or that, the meal is not your preference. Well, it may be economical to take away but when economics can have dire consequences on your health, it is better to safeguard your health.

It is embarrassing to find out that a visitor who ate from your home has been rushed to the hospital hours after eating, and worse still being diagnosed with cholera or acute abdominal pains. You might have probably prepared your meals , but it may well be that, either hands are not properly washed, or food carried away from one point to another has been contaminated by germs, flies or through poor storage practices.

Christmas is a period of sharing and is often characterised by eating. But the eating must be responsible enough. The worst way to begin 2012 is to enter the New Year sick. As we share and eat, let us make conscious efforts to observe the best possible safety standards we can. Our health is too important to be mortgaged for anything. Merry Christmas and a healthy New Year to all!

Source: Rebecca Y. Akatue/The writer is a Public Health Practitioner & Operations Manager of the NHIA