HomeOpinion & AnalysisTraditional food: Neglected, abandoned habits

Traditional food: Neglected, abandoned habits


ON BEING served with isitshwala with imibhida yolude a close friend of ours declined and said: “Isisu sami kasivumelani lalokhu. Just a cup of tea and a sandwich will be fine for me.”

After he left my daughter remarked, “Lilizwile ikhiwa elimnyama ? Kaliwuthinti umgayiwa!”

Was this an isolated case or are there more of them where people refuse traditional foods claiming that it upset their stomachs? Usually it is not the “very educated” people, the very rich who behave that way. The problem is with “in-betweens” ababamba impucuko ngomphimbo.

One can understand and excuse people of the diaspora who have lived for a long time away from their traditional environments. The problem is not that traditional foods are lacking food values. In fact, traditional foods are natural and rich in nutrients — cereals, wild vegetables, wild fruits, izadenda, izadloli, inyosi, intethe, ini lani.

Here is a short study case:

Baningi was suddenly taken seriously ill with sharp abdominal pains, loss of physical strength, strong palpitations — a host of complications all over the body. An ambulance was called to rush him to Mpilo hospital. He was attended by a specialist doctor who conducted a thorough examination of his condition. After studying his observations the doctor shocked the patient’s wife: “Mama, I have examined your husband and I am now ready to give you the prescription for his illness which is serious. Take him back home.

Cook him sorghum isitshwala relished with dried vegetables (umfushwa wolude), give him a mug of sour milk , not thick (ihiqa) to drink, (no sugar), give him plenty of amahewu twice a day, soft sorghum porridge in the morning with milk, a bit of snack in between meals consisting of grains of boiled maize mixed with peanuts (inkobe).

In the evenings give him sorghum isitshwala relished with ezangaphakathi, amathumbu, ulusu, amalulu, isadijana and so forth. A mug of sour milk to drink should accompany every meal as should lots of wild vegetables.

“Bring your husband back for review after two days on Thursday at 10:30 in the morning. Goodbye.”

On Thursday Baningi arrived back at the hospital driving his own car and he energetically walked into the doctor’s office. He was fit and well.

“You see”, explained the doctor. Baningi grew up eating the kind of food similar to my prescription. It became part of his dietary system till he was in his forties. Because he had a good education he got a high post in the civil service with a comfortable salary.

“He could now afford junk foods, fizzy drinks, processed cereals like macaroni, spaghetti, flour and all that. His body system was rejecting this new eating habit.”

Thus to a certain extent the neglecting or abandoning of certain or all traditional foods has to do with attitude or perceived reasons. There are those who regard the eating of rice as a more civilised habit than eating maize . Watch them select their food at a wedding party or at a funeral dinner. Isitshwala, amatshakada, traditional vegetables will remain untouched.

Rice, macaroni, spaghetti, salads, especially cooked meats and other refined foods will all go quickly. Of course, they are nice to the taste but they hit the pocket and in the long run they hit the body with health problems (diabetes, obesity, etc). Amasi? “Yes, please, just two spoons in a saucer. I will eat it as a salad. No isitshwala for me, please”.

You can concoct a health problem by claiming that certain foods are not good for you. It is usually the traditional foods that are so perceived.

A humorous case was when a sweet lady said: “Oh, no, don’t give me that dobi stuff. I don’t touch it. Later when tea was being served she said, yes, please, a good spread of peanut butter. I just love it. It’s healthy”.

The point that is being made here is that people are free to eat what food they like but the perception that Western foods are better in any way than traditional Ndebele food is not correct. The foods (Ndebele) are just as nutritious and healthy as any.

Of course there is a need to devise ways of cooking and serving them more attractively, but not to refine them too much. They should remain natural. After all they grow (traditional crops) unpolluted by inorganic fertilizers.

The abandonment of traditional foods has also been accompanied by the rejection of the traditional ways of serving as well as the manners of eating food. Traditionally you scoop the isitshwala into one sizeable dish for all your five or so boys and another one for isitshebo.

They all dip their fingers in: isitshwala hlephu, bumba, esitshebeni scoop, emlonyerni qotshe .

What fellowship! You ate with your bare hands. Your fingers actually worked the food which already becomes part of your body when it goes down from the mouth into the stomach. Now, you don’t touch the food.

“Give me a knife and fork. Stab, cut (small piece please, I don’t like this chewing business) into the mouth , swallow .”

No chance to feel your food to be en rapport with it. Kakusadlithizwa amaqatha, kukhukhuzwe amakleza, kugqulwe imikantsho.

There are many fallacies and misconceptions concerning traditional foods. These should be thoroughly investigated and researched.

Dieticians should come out clearly with open guidance so that people will choose with confidence and knowledge what to eat for good health. It is a valid claim that traditional foods are just as wholesome and nutritious as any foods anywhere.

So why neglect and abandon them?

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