What do you think separates humans from other animals? What exactly elevates us and makes us top dog? It isn’t communication, other animals communicate with one another and their environment too. Some of them even use sophisticated mechanisms of communication including electronic signals used by aquatic animals and seismic communication by use of vibrational signals by certain species of frogs, bats and worms. It isn’t making our own shelter, even the birds do this. Neither is it taking care of our young, every mammal has maternal instinct.
What sets us apart is our ability to prepare our food using a series of processes that may or not involve fire. Cooking is unique to humans, no other animal cooks or even makes an effort to make their food more presentable or to improve the taste. Nutrition is a basic need of every living organism and we have come up with a myriad of creative ways for filling this need, they vary from culture to culture with each culture adapting their feeding habits and food preparation processes to fit cultural and environmental realities. In this part of the world, cooking has been seen as the exclusive preserve of the woman. A man who admitted to enjoying the process of cooking was seen as effeminate and would be regarded with suspicion even by women.
However with the effects of the industrial and technological age sinking in slowly but surely, more and more women are joining the workforce and cooking is becoming an all-inclusive affair. Cooking is no longer seen as the ultimate value of a woman’s worth, even though it is still seen as essential.
In most parts of Africa, meal preparation involves hours of gruelling work which takes up many hours. In fact one of the reasons that polygamy was so accepted and widespread was the need for many hands in the process of getting food from the farm to the table. Some men had a wife (usually the youngest or oldest) whose primary duty was to cook for the entire family while others went to the farm while others practised a rotational system for cooking duties. With the advent of labour saving devices and mechanised farming, this practise is dying out.
In today’s fast paced world, the most valuable commodity is not money or beauty or intelligence, it is time. Everything happens with lightning speed, we want the best of entertainment at the touch of a button, we want access to information and news from around the world as they occur, and we do not feel at ease unless we are rocking the latest threads from the trendiest designers. It is only natural that our cooking practices adapt to our present day realities.
While processes like grinding and mixing of dough have been made easier by the invention of blenders and mixers, other processes have been slower to adapt. Preparation of certain meals still takes a lot of time and effort. Making a meal of pounded yam for instance involves cutting and peeling the yam, boiling it for ten to twenty minutes depending on the quantity of the yam and most importantly, the strenous pounding of the yam to get the stretchy, fluffy mass that is the king of Nigerian lunch and dinner staples.
People over the years have tried to make the process of preparing pounded yam easier and they have recorded varying results. From the yam pounding machine which retails at a price far above the reach of the common man or woman (especially those who are not addicted to pounded yam) to the yam flour alternatives like Poundo (which is regarded as a poor substitute for the real thing). We had resigned ourselves to pounding on until a better solution came up even though we didn’t see the possibility of that happening soon.
In 2014, food blogging took off seriously in Nigeria these food bloggers have rapidly become our resource base for recipes, tips on how to obtain, utilise and store certain underutilised and scarce food items, food presentation and plating tips and time saving plus tips on improved cooking efficiency. These bloggers (mostly female) have become doyens of the Nigerian internet space and they have leveraged their popularity into making money from product placement on their blogs, product endorsements and appearance fees. The most prominent of them is London based blogger Oladunni Obata who goes by the moniker Dooney.
Dooney was the first to bring pounded yam to the twenty first century by championing the use of the food processor- yes the good old food processor, the dough attachment of the baking mixer and even the wet mill of the blender to make pounded yam. Using any of these appliances, you can get your pounded yam five minutes after boiling and the result is a mass that is as light and stretchy as the pounded yam produced by expert pounders. Amala (another yam based staple) and wheatmeal have also been upgraded to the twenty first century by the use of baking mixers for their preparation.
Making of these meals no longer has to be the exercise in drudgery that they were before and even a mediocre cook can make excellent dishes and very quickly too. Modernization shouldn’t necessarily erode our culture and the essense of who we are. If we play our cards rights and are willing to think outside the box to adapt our culture- especially our native dishes to the fit the era we find our selves and make these dishes appealing to the world, technology will allow us have richer and fuller lives on our own terms.
PS: This piece was written in February during the social media week and I kinda forgot about it until now.
PPS: I’m supposed to do a full post on the 2016 Farafina Creative Writing Workshop but I haven’t been able to “see road” due to the pressures of my new job. The window for application into this year’s workshop is open and you can send your best writing for a shot at this. You get to spend ten days at a fabulous hotel with breakfast and lunch provided, to write your heart out and have Chimamanda Adichie (when she told me she visited this blog and loved my writing, I nearly died), Binyavanga Wainana and Aslak Sira Myrhe read and critique your work. Most importantly you get to meet some of the best young writers in Nigeria and even Africa today as fellow participants, the bonds you will form will totally enrich your life. How do you apply? This Link has everything you need to know. Interestingly my friend Jite- who I met at the workshop last year (but who I had been admiring her work from afar long before then) is an editor and she’s willing to edit your story for FREE. Isn’t that wonderful? You can buzz her on twitter @jyte12 and take it from there.