One of my sisters is very keen on diet. Trying to start her charity at home, a while ago, she started a campaign to dissociate us from sugar.
Hearing her explain the health effects of excessive sugar consumption for adults, it feels like she is describing the inside of a mortuary. If only she was alone, perhaps I would ignore.
But these health warnings find us everywhere these days; no place left to hide. A colleague wants to try cactus juice to ‘cut my stomach’, a friend advises me to take a cup aloe vera every morning, another one recommends shear seeds in every meal, this one tells me supper is not good for my health, … Good Lord!
I feel they have adequately scared me, and I have been thinking of quitting sugar lately. Never mind that I make two steps ahead and about three backwards.
It’s a Matthew 26:41 struggle where “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak”. I notice the agony of my tongue every time I put a spoon less, and total protest when I put none.
You see, growing up, sugar was quite scarce and tightly controlled in some of our families. My mother kept the sugar tin in her bedroom, only bringing it out at breakfast to sprinkle about a spoon and a half into each of our big Tumpeco cups and then about two in her gama.
We would look on in wishes to get chanced to at least hold it for once. Such was the desire that I even envied the tin for its privilege. So, when she was away, we served ourselves generously – a concentration of sugar that would turn our porridge brown and even tickle the throat.
Well, at least, though highly guarded, the little sugar was often available in our case. I know of families that would improvise by taking their ‘dry tea’ with a piece of sweet potato, to lie to the tongue. Not to mention the cheap bitter sugar we used to call lutunku!
We then grow up and are able to afford the sweet thing; what would you expect? This is why we don’t usually understand those who come to tell us that sugar may not be necessary for our bodies, just about the time when we have arrived.
So, we pretend to be moderate in public but go back home and spoil ourselves. For most of the things that we thought we would grow up to enjoy, we are now bombarded with warnings from everyone with a mouth about their health risks!
We wish to live long healthy lives, but what we should sacrifice to this effect is a real dilemma. Soda, meat, cooking oil...! In our childhood, soda was for big days and feasts. We sipped it triumphantly while regulating its flow in the straw with our teeth, lest the 300mls got finished before the fact sunk in that the year’s bottle was gone like that.
Now when you can buy yourself a two-liter bottle and gas up yourself properly, someone tells you that you got to watch out. Forwarding you those videos showing a certain soda dissolving a bone! All this after being told that even the ‘Quencher’ that used to play substitute is just sugar, colour and flavours!
You try Minute Maid and Afia, yet still you are told that you are digging your grave with your tongue!
With the exception of most fruits, it looks like many healthy foods which are harmless no matter how much and how frequently we eat them conspired to be either less tasty or bitter! We love our meat, and many love it fatty (enyama ensava).
You can tell this taste from our proverbs. Don’t the Baganda say that ‘mwavu aluma kikonde; nti bwendizifuna ndigiruma bwenti (a poor person bites his/her fist; saying that when I get money, I will bite it [the meat] like this)? For us, one man’s meat is another man’s wish.
The Iteso also remind us that ‘etiaki akiring ajena’ (meat divides blood relations). So special a meal that sometimes we only feel the need to share it when it is finished!
But we are now told that vegetables and fruits make the best meals. That we just need to add a little eggs, meat, and milk for protein! Listen; some of us grew up on vegetables, and many had to learn that it is food for the poor and misers.
I am yet to hear a local saying that glorifies greens. When we can afford it, we need to show some class by frying our stuff with some good amount of cooking oil. We should not let anyone to mistake us for the poor – those people who cannot germinate and maintain a potbelly.
So, now we shall fry the cassava, plantain (gonja), matooke, sweet potatoes, Irish potatoes, greens, beans, peas, yams, sim-sim... We are also planning for these fruits.
We know too well our love for fried things and meat. That is why even at our self-service events, we are allowed to serve ourselves anything, but someone will have to regulate the meat and chicken dishes.
Otherwise, each one serves as if they think it had been reserved for them. When we meet meat, our sense of shame is sent on forced leave.
Where we come from, the potbellies that you want us to ‘cut’ mean a lot. How else will people know that we got some money?
A potbelly is the identity ‘card’ to the middle-class. Continue calling them indicators of impending health disaster while, at social functions and in church, those of us with them are given front seats.
The author heads the Center for African Studies at Uganda Martyrs University, Nkozi.