Plastic In Our Foods
Much has been said about our inactions in promoting traditional dishes. Some observers have even bemoaned the fact that local snacks such as ‘kaklo’ (in all its forms), ‘kulikuli’, and ‘akankyier’ are losing popularity among Ghanaians. This trend has given rise to the call for the revival of these food items.
However, one other reality is the gradual replacement of the covering of some dishes by plastic. When one imagines a drink like palm wine_ in all its glory_ there is always the picture of a calabash somewhere in the backing. The same can be said of fufu and the earthen-ware bowl. In fact, certain fufu enthusiasts even swear that the popular staple served in any bowl other than the “asanka” never tastes the same.
‘Waachey’ used to be served in a distinct broad leaf. Later, when unfolded, a pyramid of spicy delight with a perfect slope and base awaits your pleasure. Apart from the interesting shape which the meal assumes, the leaf provides it a nice aroma.
‘Koko’ also combines greatly with the calabash. But these days, it has become the norm to see ‘waachey’ in black polythene bags and ‘koko’ in plastic bowls. Actually, the porridge is now being served in ‘take away’ polythenes as well.
The plastic invasion is still running its course. But should we allow it to intrude right up into our palate? Not so long ago, there were paper bags which helped to restrict the massive use of plastic.
Plastic is a synthetic material made out of hydrocarbon. Polythene (scientifically known as polyethylene) is one derivative. Some paints are another range. Together, these petroleum by-products have become as indispensable as they are ‘troublesome’. The plastic is in fact, also known as the environmentalist’s nightmare.
The content of the polythene is quite safe. It is water-proof. Its package is also convenient to carry about. For these reasons, the polythene will remain with us for a long time. But are these enough reasons to let go of time-tested receptacles like the calabash or the leaves?
If it is the issue of hygiene the ‘waachey’ leaves could be wiped with tissue before being used. With the calabash, a good wash is usually okay. Indeed, compared to the plastic bowls, it is easier to wash and doesn’t accumulate dirt.
The untold environmental problems of plastic are enough to suggest that its use is checked wherever possible. At this point, we as a nation do not have an effective recycling system. Our streets are littered, our water-ways are choked…. plastic simply never goes away. On the other hand, leaves and calabashes are bio-degradable and are easier to manage.
The economic ramifications of this trend stretches far into the rural communities. The cottage industry which supplies the leaves has virtually died off. Only a highly reduced quantity is produced to wrap ‘kamfa’ and cola nuts. The rural industry for calabash production would soon follow suit. A couple of decades from now, Ghanaian children might probably only hear of the ‘ancient calabash’ and ‘wrapping leaves’. Is that what we really want?
Seemingly, the root of the situation is our eagerness to let go of our ways of doing things at the least opportunity. Surely, we can adopt the good ways. For instance, we should begin to see coconut sellers offering us straw (another plastic, by the way) with which to suck the juice. That would be a good way of copying.
In spite of their advanced technologies and the huge western influence on them, the Japanese maintain their sushi dish and all that goes with it. The Chinese still adore their “funny” chopstick. Sushi and the chopstick are even patronised beyond the shores of the two countries.
Ghanaians are known to be colourful people. Let us let it show. Tourists and other visitors love us for that. Who doesn’t relish naturally cold water from the African pot with all the earthy flavour that the fridge cannot offer? Are we going to get rid of that because of the ice chest?
If these trend continues it would not be a surprise to see kenkey being wrapped in ‘new improved’ polythene. Check this: would kenkey still be kenkey without its traditional wrapping?
By: Mr. Kofi Akpabli
A Ghanaian Journalist