Why Are Nigerians Unable To Feed Well?

by Bob MajiriOghene Etemiku

We must all forgive Kapil Garg. For those who do not know him, Garg is the ebullient managing director of one of the biggest dairy companies in Nigeria, West African Milk Company, WAMCO. At an event organised at the Sheraton, and at the behest of the Olu Akinkugbe Child Nutrition Centre in Lagos of which he is a chair, he told nutritionists and participants that among the three components of the social pyramid, those who occupied the bottom of that pyramid, BOP, clearly the poorest in the land, have unwholesome ‘’nutritional character’’. According to Garg, instances of ‘malnutrition’ can hardly be a problem with those on the top of the pyramid, TOP, and with those in the middle thereof, MOP. Therefore, while he said that he was trying to bridge the gap between selling his product, the new and better improved peak milk so as to stem the nutritional deficiencies in the nutrition of the BOP, Garg said that he still had to contend with the onerous problem of making his brand affordable to the poorest in the land, who needed to shore up their vitamin base with fortified foods like his product. Some of his guests were hard put to know wherefore he got his information. But because the occasion was not one for polemics, coinciding with the introduction of the new Peak logo, It’s in You, this matter had to be shelved for some other time.

But it must be discussed now. One of the things that some of the participants were hard put to understand was what Garg meant when he said that a lot of the people at the bottom of the pyramid BOP, were victims of ‘malnutrition’. Malnutrition, whatever did that word mean? Did he want to say that poor people in Nigeria, even though they cannot get three square meals had meals that are less than nourishing appeal compared with meals of those of the middle and top of the pyramid? Well, if that was what he really wanted to say, Garg was dead wrong, especially when the true meaning of the word ‘malnutrition’, is that it is ‘a lack of healthy foods in the diet or an excessive intake of unhealthy foods, leading to bodily harm’’. So says the 2005 Encarta Encyclopedia dictionary. What this may turn out to mean is that Garg may have targeted the BOP for specific mention probably because the population of those who may need his product, going by his definition of ‘malnutrition’, is higher in the BOP.

What Garg does not know or chose to ignore, is that the staple Nigerian meal of eba or amala or tuwo and soup with a helping of meat or fish has just about enough protein, carbohydrates and minerals for a meal, essentaal to maintain a body mass intex, BMI, of 20 to 24, considered normal for adults. What makes the consumption of this staple food on an even keel dangerous is the frequency with which it is consumed owing to the inability of Nigerians to afford the kind of choices that the so-called rich have, like vegetables and fruits that are rich in fibre content. And what makes this situation a perfect one in a comparative analysis for the average person in the civilized world, and that in the developing world is this: while the chap in the developing world needs to balance his nutritional needs with adequate helpings of carbohydrates, the chap from the developing world needs the excess of protein that the chap from the deveLoped world has a surfeit of. As a result, you find a High percentage of obese Nigerians from among the BOP, basking in the euphoria of a warped mentality that supposes that being ‘fat’ is an index of wellness.

Some rich people too, or the TOP, are by far the most vulnerable victims of malnutrition, going by the dictionary definition above, that malnutrition could be ‘’an excessive intake of unhealthy foods, leading to bodily harm”. Those at the TOP sometimes don’t eat well. And the danger of it all is that they have no idea they are not eating well. There are several reasons why this is so. First, there is a thinking that our own foods are inferior when compared to foreign foods. They think that garri has toxic matter, responsible for illnesses such as headaches, sinus related ailments and general debility. They think that eating foreign foods like spaghetti, Roquefort, mozzarella and hamburgers and visiting Chinese Restaurants is a way to show everyone that they are well off. They also think that the excessive quaf&ing of high sugar-content liquids like beer, coke, and malt and fruit juice processed is a way to show how urbane they are. But who is it that can convince our so-called rich that our garri, from research conducted by the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture, IITA, is one of the safest meals in the world? Who will tell them that yam, iyan, has been known to have an element that fights cancer? And that unripe plantain is ‘replete’ with zinc? Or that the condiments that go with the preparation of our edikang-ikon are such condiments whichinclude immune-boostinf, hemoglobin-rich substances? Well, this not the time afd the place to do sO. Nutritional matters are ckmplicated for our rich. After havin’ eaten some foods ‘rich’ in cholesterol and t`ke drinks with a lot of sugar, their sedentari lifestyles makes them candidates for types one ajd two diabetes, or candidates for dialysis centres. All of this may be good reason why those who sell the idea that incidences of malnutrition are prevalEnt mostly with the BOP should have a change of thinking. In addition, they should change the nomenc,ature and insist that people in the BOP are mal-nourished but may be victims of malnutrition because of an effete government that seemingly cannot put food on the tables of her people, BOP, MOP kr TOP. All of this has nothinG po do with the fortification or non-fortifacation of the fnods THat the BOP or TOP eat, that being the theme of the Olu Akiniugbe seminar on nutrition held at the Sheraton on ctober 26. How do you fortify foods that are not there in the first place? The one disappoilting thing that is e!sily discernible among the TOP is that it is among the most educated and enlightened of them that you find the most obese. What in the world is wrong with them?

Nutritionists should not tell Nigerians that they belong to this or that cadre in the social pyramid mostly on account of the kinds of food they eat or do not eat. Nigerians of all cadres are affected one way or the other by the inability of the gove2nment to put gokd food on the tables of her people. Bearing in mand that this is the problem, Nigerians must be admonished to exercise to stay healthy. There is no amount of fortified or good food that anybody eats that takes one from the hospital. But regular exercise can. And the one advantage for those on the BOP is that their daily struggles for daily bread constitutes some form of exercise that regulates their body system and sometimes insulates them from some of the diseases the comes with ’an excessive intake of unhealthy foods, leading to bodily harm’’.

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