At the popular Balogun Market on Lagos Island, I had gone to the section known as ‘Gutter,’ where the best of fabrics ranging from Voile, Wanyosi, Indian, Intorica, Ankara and sample laces are sold.
It was my late father’s burial and I had gone to arrange for the family uniform known in local parlance as Aso-ebi. Before I arrived at the market I had earlier called up Gloria my classmate who inherited her mother’s business of selling these materials. And she directed me to a point from where she would pick me up.
As we made to cross a particular junction, there was this very fat fair woman with tribal marks who sat in front of a steaming big pot of stew filled with assorted meat on low charcoal hob. The thickness of the skin-cow meat popularly called Pomo garnished the red stew and other pieces of meat as they all danced inside the large pot, it was temptingly eye catching and very appetizing. That woman had a smart way of turning the pot of stew from the down part to showcase the mouth-watering heavy chunk of meats which attract crowd around her as all struggle to buy. That sight also heightened my appetite and I wanted to buy the food because of the meat.
But Gloria smartly used her eye contact to discourage me from buying the meal until we settled down in her shop when she explained the whole thing.
“Do you know what was added to that appealing sight of that meat? Did you notice the queue, and all struggling to buy the woman’s food?
“That tempting thick Pomo you were salivating to eat are not healthy. There have been serious allegations that some of them were imported thick horse skin from other African countries which are not fresh; while some were cooked with tablets to tenderise it,” she told me.
Now, it is no longer news that most people suffer Diarrhea, vomiting and nausea after eating contaminated food in their homes, restaurants and from food vendors or at parties because of the ingredients that were added to the food during preparations.
Some other food poison could also come from poor preservation, dirty environment and carelessness.
Interestingly, the ‘Gutter’ woman is not the only one who has been accused of such unhealthy practices though most of them deny it flatly. There have been, indeed, allegations of most food vendors, restaurant owners, and ‘Mama Put’ operators using illegal, toxic and poisonous ingredients to prepare attractive commercial foods. One might not know the secret behind those palatable mouth-watering foods people crave for? Sunday Sun investigations revealed that most food vendors resort to unhealthy substances in their bid to produce commercial foods ‘very fast’ and in large quantity.
Indeed, restaurant operators who cook large quantities of food mostly with the head and skin of cow perceived to be very hard have been accused of using a handful of Paracetamol tablets to soften these parts of the meat. Bottles of 7-Up soft drinks are also said to be emptied in a large cooking pot of meat to achieve the same purpose in some cases just like the use of raw green paw-paw.
Of all the allegations, the commonest old tradition of cooking strong meat, according to a woman cook who crazed anonymity is the ‘steel’ such as spoon, nail and iron fragments. According to her, when these are added to a boiling pot of meat, it helps to cook fast, as well as soften it.
Apart from these unhealthy ingredients, there have been allegations that some food sellers use dark powers and trick imaginations to make quick sales of their foods.
It was also discovered that most of the powders known as spices that had flooded the market are not too good for human consumption. Some of these fake ingredients are used not only to tenderise the food, but also change the colour to make it look appetizing, give it a sweet soothing taste without considering the health benefit of the consumers.
Investigations showed that it is not only meats are so abused. One wonders why some restaurant women boil white rice and sieve the water as if they are boiling yam? Hardly would they cook rice and allow the water to dry. Mama Obinna said: “It is because the rice is for commercial purpose, if cooked normally, it becomes very soft and would be bad market. It remains stronger when it is sieved.”
Also food vendors have also been accused of cooking yam with cubes of sugar to make it sweet.
From a popular market in Ogun State, Mrs Udom revealed that the trending cassava meal popularly called fufu people eat normally at homes, in restaurants, parties etc; are mostly prepared with either detergents or Alum for easy fermentation. How does it work? She said: “Ordinarily, cassava meant for fufu is supposed to be soaked for five days to reduce the amount of cyanide (which has been described by researchers as one of the most famous poisons in cassava) to get the best fermentation, but when the illicit method is used, it ferments under two days with the cyanide intact.” What is the process? “When the cassava is peeled and washed, it is arranged in a big bowl and a packet of 400mg Omo would be emptied and sprinkled all over the bowl and it is covered up. Natural fermenting looks foamy, so when Omo is added to it, one might not suspect any harm because of the bubbles on top of the basin. In just two days, the whole bowl of cassava would ferment and the process of sieve, cook and sell starts from there.” Some women also use alum because, according to Mrs Udom, alum is edible, cleanses and gives the cassava the purest colour. “I buy in large quantities from a popular market in Ogun State, some are fermented with Omo while some are fermented with alum. So, I buy the two and mix them together, then cook. I am a wholesaler, who supplies to many people. This became a temporary solution as the dealers claim that Lagos cassava do not ferment fast except it goes through this harsh process,” she said.
Dr Gbenga Fajemirokun, special assistant to Director General of NAFDAC, said: “It really beats my imagination. I do not eat fufu, but in my house people eat fufu, which they do not make in the house, they buy it from outside, now that we are hearing that people pour the detergent to speed up the fermentation. Well, let us draw our mind to the time people use paracetamol to cook meat, there is no way that people would not comprise without paying for it, because this is a compromise. “Unfortunately, it is not the people who are doing it that would pay for it, but people who are buying and patronising these practices would pay for it. So, when we talk about liver and kidney diseases, these are some of the implications. May I also add that casinogenicities because we are talking about detergent being consumed; something meant to wash clothes is now being consumed. If we have the lead on people who are doing this, the information should be provided, so that appropriate sanction would be meted out to them”.
In the same vein, Dr (Mrs) Christy Opara of the Department of Microbiology, Federal University Otuoke, Bayelsa State, said that in using Omo to speed up fermentation and Paracetamol to cook meat, the responsibility of the two items have been abused.
“When Paracetamol is taken as a cooked tablet, it is no longer analgesic because heating it up would given it another definition and interpretation just like using Omo to ferment cassava. Its original purpose has been stripped off; it becomes toxic and some of these consumptions are the major causes of liver failure. The fufu that is soaked with a corrosive detergent like Omo is no longer consumable food, but toxic consumption and all these are dangerous to the body.”
Shockingly, it might be a mind blower to hear an allegation from another anonymous one-time restaurant worker who relocated from Abuja to Lagos that most food vendors queue up at the mortuary to buy water scooped from the ‘dead body’ for their daily business. She said: “ Owners of restaurants go to the mortuary as early as possible to queue for the water used to bath the corpse which is normally brought out as fast business. The water is not kept within the reach or sight of all as it is quickly hidden in a handbag immediately it is handed over to the customer by the mortuary attendant.
She also confessed that not all ‘dead body’ water is used for cooking, some are used to sprinkle in front of the business premises to attract customers because it is spiritual.
It was also speculated that these corpses’ water when added to cooked food, blends well and has a way of sustaining loyal customers “who queue up to wash plates themselves while the seller shouts at them to hurry up.”
Also as use of illicit drugs is on the upsurge, upcoming users shifted from taking it orally to injecting them in foods being cooked. Some delicious foods like jollof rice, spaghetti and noodles are prepared in some cases with marijuana.
For bean cake lovers, not all the moi-moi and akara purchased and consumed are prepared from beans seed alone. Some of the vendors have added flour meant for doughnut and puff-puff into them. All are mixed together, prepared, cooked and sold to the public. Roadside yam fryers would peel the yam, soak it in water mixed with salt for the yam to rise, when fried, it looks like boiled yam. No one can eat fried commercial crunchy yam.
Be it as it may, it is intriguing that most of the food vendors approached to defend these allegations and mystery, all claimed they have no knowledge of it, yet they are the perpetrators of these dastardly act. At a popular joint at Ikotun, one Alhaja said: “I am hearing it for the first time. I have operated this business for almost 17 years now, this is the first time I am hearing of paracetamol being used to cook meat. I only sell rice and amala.”
Pointing towards her kitchen, she said, “you can see my large charcoal pots, that is what I use to cook, I do not add any substance to my foods.”
When a caterer was confronted on the issue of using liquid milk or 7-up to add to salad creams at parties she admitted saying that milk is edible and could be taken straight from the can.
But when mixed with salad creams, don’t you think that power would have changed hands to become another thing and she said: “But it is edible. It multiplies the quantity of the cream, makes it creamier, softer and tastier.”
But findings revealed that with different body chemistries some of the mixtures might result to foodborne illness, depending on how the mixed vegetables and cream are preserved because food poison occurs when contaminated, spoiled or toxic food are consumed.
“Most times, not all of these foods are prepared to take ones life, but for spiritual exercises, powers and control of destinies, that is why such risks are taken,” an anonymous food seller revealed.
An aunty who is a food vendor in Onitsha found it hard to break even in her food business, according to her friend, Mrs Jonas. She would cook rice, beans, boiled yam, fried plantain and stew to serve them, as she hawks them around town, but she would not sell half of it while her contemporaries would finish in the twinkle of an eye.
She complained bitterly about poor sales and asked her colleagues the secret of their booming business, as it seemed she was the only one who was not making progress in the business.
One of the women drew her out privately and taught her how to wash the end of her monthly cycle and use it to cook stew. She was told to wash it and keep and be using it sparingly before the next month when she would gather another bottle. This she was said to have done and her business picked up.
Written by Agatha Emeadi