Lessons from the market - part 4
‘Give us this day our daily bread’
|Fresh bread baked in our solar cooker|
Whether that be a quiet prayer to God, or the cry of a hungry revolutionary mob demanding social justice, bread is seen as essential for life, either as blessing or as a right. It is an everyday staple in many parts of the world, and comes in many different forms. Some types are better for you than others, white flour fortified with iron, wholemeal, multigrain, sour dough are all beneficial in one way or another, but none, as far as I am aware is usually considered a harmful part of our diet. (Gluten-free bread is hopefully still available to those in need it as treatment on the NHS).
When we lived in Ndjamena we could get fresh baguettes each morning from the local lock up store. This is rather surprising as there is little or no grain grown in the French speaking parts of sub-Saharan Africa that I have visited, but in all of them, as a hangover from colonial times, subsidised flour is used to bake a standard priced baguette that is widely available. It presumably helps with social justice and the maintenance of a peaceful society. (Can all this really date back to the famous quote from Marie Antoinette and the hunger riots prior to the French revolution? I like to think so, but it is probably a convenient fiction)
At our home in Bardai, a mountainous mid Saharan oasis, you rarely see a baguette, but you may remember from a previous post that there is delicious local flat bread that the Teda women make using an oven of a simple half oil drum buried in the rocky hillside.
|Teda bread being baked|
What is really surprising is that until 20 years ago the people here used to grow their own wheat using the underground water from the wadi to irrigate the crop. They now use cheap white flour imported from Libya and many women make not only enough for their family but supplement their income by supplying bread to the growing number of shops and restaurants that are springing up due to the gold rush.
Bread is a daily staple, but can I ask how many days a week do you eat meat?
Every day? Twice a week? Never?
Some of you will be vegetarian, as are mountain gorillas, others will be meat eaters as are chimpanzees. Both are our close evolutionary relatives so what are we supposed to be?
I understood from school that it natural for us to eat meat as we have canine teeth to seize our prey and incisors to cut it, but they seem to work quite well on an apple so I don’t think we can argue either way based on our dentition.
|A platter of special Ramadan food|
Having a regular source of fresh meat in Bardai is something new. We mentioned frozen chickens last time, no doubt there always were a few chickens scratting around in the sand but never enough to sell. Red meat was even rarer, until last month when Ramadan began there was no meat stall on the market; it may well close at the end of the month.
Traditionally meat would be eaten after sacrifices at religious festivals or special events such after a birth, a death or a wedding. Knowing all of this last November, in preparation of our time in the north, and being carnivores seeking a balanced diet, we dried 8 kg of minced beef in Ndjamena. It looks like coffee granules, and we have been adding it a couple of times a week to our stews. It is fine but we have especially enjoyed the times that we have been invited to a wedding and had roasted camel.
|Hay arriving from Libya|
It is difficult to keep large herds here for even weekly meat, but the recent arrival of large trucks with hay again from Libya, to feed a growing number of goats, sheep and camels, suggests that, brought about by market forces, a change may be afoot. The power of gold is creating an increasing number of shack like restaurants, and they need meat to sell and not only chicken. Maybe I am wrong and the hay is normal and it is just enough to fatten the one sheep needed for every family to sacrifice at the Festival of Tabaski. (The Muslim commemoration of Abraham’s sacrifice of a ram in the place of his son on Mount Moriah Jerusalem.)
The world is changing, as it has done before. The megafauna (elephants, rhino’s, and giraffes) along with herds of cattle carved into the rocks of the Tibesti at the time of the green Sahara, 5-10 000 years ago, attest to that.
|Ancient rock carvings|
According to the British Medical Journal, in a commentary, (BMJ 2017;357: j2190) another great change has happened in the industrialised world over the last few generations. Instead of the estimated 5-10 kg of meat a year in ancient Greece and traditional European agricultural societies, our supermarkets now supply us with 10 times that amount, to the tune of 110-120kg a year (U.S.A/ Australia). Cheap meat is produced in large factory farms, using grain to fatten up corralled beef cattle. These are on the increase in the UK and have recently been in the news due to justified questions about animal welfare. The article in the BMJ points to even greater dangers. In a world of limited resources, it apparently takes up to 110 000 litres of water to make a kg of meat and fresh water is getting scarcer not only in the Sahara. In addition, a staggering 97% of global soy meal production is used as cattle feed, even though soya also tastes good as human food. We have mixed it 50/50 with our dried meat and as a consequence we still have 2 kilos of dried mince left after 7 months. In a world where protein energy malnutrition is common can we in all conscience use the worlds soy protein supply on the inefficient transformation of vegetable into animal protein simply because we prefer the taste of meat?
All of this is not necessarily new to you, and some have disputed the figures. A Swiss bio-farmer, grazing beef cattle on the mountainside, says he uses no outside water to make his beef as it all falls on his land and they eat only grass and forage from the farm. A Guardian Data blog gave a more conservative estimate that on average 15000 litres of water is needed to make a kilogram of beef, which still sounds a lot to me. That is compared to chicken which uses a mere 4000 litres per kg. Soon a cry of
‘Four legs bad, two legs good,
Four legs bad, two wings good’
will be heard through the land. (apologies to George Orwell)
However, the BMJ commentary accompanied a piece of original peer reviewed research ‘Meat consumption and risk of mortality’ (BMJ/ 2017;357: j1957). The bottom line is that eating a diet rich in red and processed meats increased death rates due to heart attacks, diabetes, liver and kidney disease and cancer. So, it is not only the altruistic who should change their habits but also those with an enlightened self-interest.
The chimpanzee which I mentioned earlier as a meat eater is really only an occasional meat eater, if he could talk, he would probably call himself a flexitarian. Flexitarianism, which I only Iearnt about last year, is a mainly vegetarian diet with some meat. It could be seen as the latest faddy diet, but it seems to me that it is not the case; it is how we are really supposed to eat. Perhaps you, we and the Teda could all do well to resist the market change bought on by supermarkets and post WWII agricultural policy, or the gold rush, and help the planet by eating 10-20 kg of meat a year. That would be a big increase for the average Teda and a big decrease for the average westerner. It is something that we have been forced to do by circumstances, but not only that it seems like the right choice. Why not be part of a revolution as we say ‘pray with the world ‘
‘Give us all this day our daily bread’.
If that’s not for you, then at least in a spirit of self-interest, stick to chicken. It carries a lower personal risk than red meat and, as you know, it is the latest fashion in Bardai.