One man’s meat is another’s profit, or how we are slowly poisoning ourselves

Tuesday July 23 2019

A steak of meat, dangerous chemicals

A steak of meat. When it comes to food, there are many levels where a red flag could have been raised. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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It has been hard to eat or even buy meat from a supermarket since Dennis Okari's expose on the increasing use of preservatives that are harmful when consumed.

Not only has it been difficult to serve meat when having a meal, but when I do eat a piece I wonder whether it was well inspected...Was it fresh?

Perhaps I should not eat too much, and often...I find myself unconsciously scouting through the chunks of meat, leaving a pile of probably good meat on my plate and eating just plain old rice.

It has been a few days of a no-meat diet and I am not quite sure how long this will last. Until the scare becomes a distant memory, perhaps?

And I am pretty sure that some butcheries in Nairobi have resorted to putting up signs to say that their meat is safe due to the sudden decline in the number of buyers.

A few weeks before the release of the documentary by NTV, a colleague sent me an image on WhatsApp of a green apple that looked perfect, with no blemishes, and it was in the middle of this white kitchen counter.


At first I wondered why she would share an image of a fruit as I watched the fuzzy image of the apple become clearer as it downloaded, only to read the caption: "It has been looking like this for weeks. Is this normal?"

She had bought several apples and even eaten some, but for some reason, this was left in the kitchen. She kept meaning to eat it, but the days became weeks.

She was now curious as to how long it would take before it would decay, but this apple showed no sign, looking the way she had just bought it from the supermarket.

The apple is still on her kitchen counter, and we are still waiting for it to rot.

Then it hit me...What is safe to eat nowadays? I am afraid of eating salad in hotels and restaurants, especially in Nairobi, since it is not unheard of to get cholera.

Food poisoning is as common as the flu in Nairobi; drinking water will lead to typhoid; and we have seen accounts of bottled water being collected from taps in dingy houses and repackaged.

Do not eat the crisps from the streets because, apparently, they are made with transformer oil (I still have no idea whether this is real, but every time I buy crisps, it lingers on my mind, and yes, I am still buying them, killing myself slowly).

The NTV documentary mentioned how chips are also preserved so that they appear fresh longer. And how beans are cooked with panadol so that they cook faster.

See, all these shocking stories that we seem to know, but we still continue to consume poison? What about the vegetables or the fruits, or the kind of drinks we are consuming?

Not too long ago, there was a scare about mercury in our sugar. Was there mercury? Still not sure, but the report disappeared as quickly as it was hyped.

So much, really, it should be some dramatic show, but it is our lives on the line every day. And that is what will happen with the meat. We will be outraged and cautious for a week or two, perhaps some restrictions will be put in place and people will be afraid to put high levels of preservatives in meat for a few weeks, but we will revert to default settings in the not-too-distant future.

We often fail to realise that all this is closely linked to how corruption and lack of proper systems is a cycle that affects us all.

Transparency International recently released the 10th edition of its Global Corruption Barometer for Africa, which surveyed 35 countries.

It stated that about 130 million people in the 35 countries paid bribes to access public services. This means that many of us cry publicly how corruption is bad, but in private are perpetrating it daily. It has become survival.

When it comes to food, there are many levels where a red flag could have been raised. The documentary just highlighted how rotten the system is. The fact that more than one supermarket was doing it means that it is an open secret. The workers performing it, as well as the middlemen selling it... A vicious cycle, profit at all costs, even if lives are lost.

Nerima Wako- Ojiwa is executive director of Siasa Place. Twitter: @NerimaW