Indeed, trouble rides a fast horse. Last week, I came close to the grave’s mouth.
At the same time, other members of my family fell terribly ill. All our symptoms were curiously the same: very high fever, general body weakness, drowsiness, and a sore throat!
At hospital, we were immediately asked if we had eaten nsenene (grashoppers) recently. Why? Many other people had reported with the same symptoms; all tests indicated no infection – and they had also eaten nsenene!
On sharing with friends what befell us, I learnt that there were many more victims. Many had similar symptoms; others had also developed skin rashes and speedy stomachs. There have been reports recently that now nsenene trappers have resorted to poisoning the insects to boost their catch.
They use pesticides and other intoxicating substances which they smoke and spray up in the air at the nsenene. Not safe either, some of the trappers’ skins are also said to be peeling as an effect of the strong chemicals. It has also been suspected that some use formalin (used for preserving dead bodies) to keep the nsenene from smelling!
And because nsenene are not human-bred, all this we innocently eat in the belief that this is one of the few natural foods that are still safe from today’s pervasive intoxication.
Generally, when it comes to food these days, we are simply at the mercy of God. Yet God may not forgive our carelessness and heartless profit pursuits either. Baganda say lubaale mbeera, nga n’embiro kwotadde (‘help me God’, as you run).
He had the option of creating us without brains altogether. But look what use we put them to!
It is not only nsenene; roadside milk, fish and meat have been reported to be treated with formalin too. A friend tells me that if he does not see any houseflies at a meat stall, he doesn’t buy.
Because naturally they should be there, except if something is wrong. That houseflies can now turn into our food safety indicator speaks the absurd irony of this mess!
I have written about the subject of our unregulated use of pesticides and herbicides before. When you go to gardens and see how the foods we eat are grown, you get scared. Almost everything survives on heavy pesticides now, including flowers lovers buy for each other to smell! Commercial gardens smell like chemical industries!
Even more worrying, each farmer uses their own judgment to choose which type and concoction of pesticides to use. They mix all kinds in some sort of a gamble – because they are also basically on their own when it comes to agro-chemical knowledge.
An agro-chemicals dealer at Container Village (near St Balikuddembe market) told me that sometimes dealers are the ones who suggest to the chemists what to mix – on the basis of their own assumptions and feedback from farmers!
Whether Uganda National Bureau of Standards effectively regulates them or its incapacity extends to such critical areas, I don’t know.
Tomatoes are sprayed even after harvest! Farmers believe that this makes them stay longer without rotting. How much of these poisons end up in our bodies and what associated health risks face us have hardly ever been questions of national concern.
Yet you would expect that matters of food and health would take priority over much of the ping pong that preoccupies us.
I am told when some food items in supermarkets and drugs in pharmacies expire, some proprietors simply make for them new packaging at Nasser road with extended expiry dates!
It has also been in our social talk for a while now that much of the groundnut paste on our market contains hazardous metal particles from substandard grinding machines.
All these kinds of packed juices, spirits, and energy drinks popping up every other day filled with colour, preservatives, high concentrations of sugar, etc; the poultry and other farm animals that are pumped with growth-stimulating substances… Who will protect the unsuspecting consumer where the market is left to be its own regulator in business ethics – where all that matters is making money and paying taxes! Yet it goes on and on unabated, as if it is nobody’s business.
Unfortunately, in our society, not many people have the knowledge or privilege to appreciate the health gravity of such things.
At times, there is knowledge but no alternative. But in some cases, as individuals, we are accomplices in this murderous mischief through our silence in the knowledge of these evils and their perpetrators.
That these things do not seem to worry us into prompting strong action can be explained by the ‘boiled frog syndrome’.
When you put a frog in hot water, it will jump out immediately. But when you put the same frog in room-temperature water and boil it gradually, it might stay there until it boils to death or someone saves it.
We tend to be prompted into action by risks whose effect is immediate and to relax when it takes time to see the impact.
I’m hesitant to expect this government to come out strongly on this. For if the bedridden state of our public hospitals does not really bother them, why would the poison we eat affect their pulse? They eat it too, but can afford to detoxicate themselves overseas from our purse.
Nevertheless, even for the rest of us, no level of economic desperation can justify poisoning others for one to make a living. This predatory business trend is broadly symptomatic of our crumbling social moral base.
That in our pursuit of money it no longer bothers us if fellow human beings end up dying due to our commissions and omissions, we should be very worried. That is if our consciences didn’t before us.