We all eat, yet writing about food is often seen as a soft media subject. Anyway, it is a major vocation of Americans. They just love their food. And we Africans do love ours too. So it is Food! Food! Food!
And made – in – America goat meat.
Goat Meat! Yes, there is a subtle but powerful statement about food in the Washington region and this change is aptly designated by about 700 pounds of goat meat consumed daily by African immigrants living in the area.
In the Washington Metro area, spanning across the district, the state of Maryland and the commonwealth of Virginia, immigrants from all part of Africa can now be seen shopping for goat meat not from the predictable signposts of suburban American life – McDonald’s, Best Buy, Taco Bell, but from Red Apple Farmers’ Market, which sells every week to recent immigrants from Nigeria, Kenya, Somalia, Sierra Leone, Ghana and other African countries where the meat is an essential ingredient in many meals.
Ten years ago, Red Apple sold about half the amount it does now. But during the 1990s, the number of African immigrants in Montgomery County increased by 150 percent, according to data from the 2000 Census released last month – the greatest rate of increase, by far, of immigrants to the county from any continent.
The increase has led to a blossoming of new social service groups devoted to the recent African immigrants, many of whom are refugees fleeing civil war in Liberia and Sierra Leone and political persecution in Nigeria during the Abacha years.
In Washington district right in the corner of New York Avenue, Florida street and O street, a huge farmers’ market now flourishes, selling mainly African food. From Amala to Gari and Iyan as well as other condiments to cook the soup to eat these Nigerian dishes with. African families now come to this market, buy a full goat or sometimes a full cow and share right there in the market.
As the trend catches on with American entrepreneurs realizing that there is money to be made from the demand of African immigrants for their own food, major American food stores have now started stocking African delicacies. Shopper Food Warehouse, Giant Food store and Food Lion are now places where on can buy Fou Fou and Kenkey.
Expectedly, Nigerians and other Africans are not left out in the now booming business. New stores have recently opened selling all kinds of West African foodstuff imported directly from home. Yaba Store, Iroko International in Bellesville, Savanna Store in Gaithesburg, Eko store, Oyingbo Store in Washington D.C. and Hyattsville, Maryland are just a few of these stores.
These stores are known among Africans around the region as the source for yellow yams, puna yams, cassava and goat meat. Africans come from out of state to find the foods they want. The Washington D.C. African food farmers’ market is the biggest of them all. It is a wholesale market. Bigger and neater than Tejuosho and Wuse markets in Lagos and Abuja respectively.
On a typical Sunday, You will find Nigerians, Ghanaians, Kenyans and people from other parts of Africa buying stuff including maggi cubes, tilapia fish, Milo, Trofai, red palm oil, Titus sardine, peak milk, ewedu, all kinds of spices and, of course, smoked goat meat.
The market is so popular that it has been described as a place where you can locate any Nigerian that you know is in the Washington area but do no have the phone number or address. It has also been tagged as the easiest place for the Immigration officials to locate illegal African immigrant who like everybody else will come to shop for African delicacies.
Another feature is that out of states customers are allowed to place their order by phone and have their goods, including whole cow delivered to them overnight either through UPS courier or Old dominion trucks.
Investigations reveal that some enterprising African students have already applied for permits to bring African dishes to campuses in the area. Montgomery College, which has students from more than 160 nations, has felt the county’s surge in African immigrants, particularly at its Takoma Park campus. An African store may open there soon. Suya or roasted goat meat is already available for sale this summer.
At all three of Montgomery College’s campuses, African nations account for three of the top 10 foreign home countries. Social service providers and immigration experts say that in the span of a decade, African immigrants have become, numerically, a force to reckon with in Montgomery County, where nearly one-third of residents in the year 2000 were foreign-born – the highest percentage of foreign-born residents in any county in the Washington metro area. The area is believed to have had the single largest population of African immigrants of any jurisdiction in the United States, followed by Prince George’s County.
Regionally, the greatest increase in African immigrants came in the Arlington and Alexandria area of Virginia where the number of new arrivals from Africa increased by almost 300 percent.
By comparison, New York City, another hub of African immigration – had, in 2000, 92,435 African-born immigrants – about 1 percent of the city’s total population. Montgomery’s 25,776 African-born immigrants account for 3 percent of the county’s total population.
Statistics show that African immigration nationally has surged, in part, because many more African immigrants have been offered visas than in past years. In the past decade, the U.S. government has opened up the “Green Card Visa” – given out through a lottery system to citizens of a broad range of countries – to a broader spectrum of nationalities than in previous years.
Several African immigrants are the economic or intellectual elite of their countries, social service and immigration experts say. As such, the challenges they face are distinct from immigrants from Latin America, for example, who tend to be poorer and who tend to have received less formal education.
Some of us are doctors, lawyers, writers or college professors and find upon arrival our skills may not translate; it may take years to reestablish ourselves as professionals. As a result of this, people accustomed to leading their peers at home sometimes have to take lower-scale jobs to survive. They however don’t miss out on food from home.
Little wonder that goat meat is popular here, eating same with beer, particularly in this summer period has become a favorite activity as the bars in the African Market provide a suitable forum to discuss African politics. Here you will be stunned by analysis of Nigerian politics by some people that have not been home for seven years. Let the goat meat go round I beg.
This article was first published in The Anchor Newspaper of Nigeria.