Eating habits have been shifting across the world with many people, particularly in Zimbabwe, turning to traditional foods.
The craze for fast foods among the rich and those health conscious, is slowly fading away, with perhaps the younger generation, the only group that remains with a penchant for food from quick service restaurants.
Some lifestyle related diseases such as cancer and BP, which medical practitioners associate with too much consumption of processed foods, have been on the rise not only in Zimbabwe but across the continent.
This mainly came about after Africans swallowed hook, line and sinker, the food stuffs introduced to them by Europeans who came to colonise the continent.
Health experts contend that Zimbabweans have been eating incorrectly, and applaud the Damascene moment that has seen citizens turning back to traditional diets.
It is widely agreed that unprocessed foods, with limited chemicals and preservatives in their production processes — from the field to the factory — are the best to eat.
Grand return of traditional meals
Such foods include whole grains with roughage, which include mhunga (pearl millet), mapfunde (sorghum) and zviyo (finger millet).
Traditional chicken, commonly known as “road-runner”, pork bones, oxtail, knuckle bones, beef biltong (chimukuyu) in peanut butter and game meat, have also become popular with people that claim to be “watching their diet”.
Further, traditional vegetables such as nyevhe (spider flower leaves), guku (black jack), muboora (pumpkin leaves), munyemba (cowpea leaves) and mowa (wild spinach), are now much sought after in urban areas.
Previously, they were associated with the rural areas, and any mention of them in urban settings sparked untold ridicule from peers.
Mopane worms (madora), dried kapenta and flying ants, have also entered the fray, and are proving popular even at five star hotels.
Allen Gava, owner of Gava restaurant in Belgravia, says they take pride in ensuring that the food tastes as original as possible.
Gava restaurant was established in 2013.
The proprietor says since then, traditional foods have become the most popular, probably owing to their nutritional value.
Said Gava: “In essence, traditional foods are those whole and ancient foods that have been eaten for centuries and even millennia. They are the foods that your great-great-great-great-great grandmother and grandfather would have eaten.
“They are simple, naturally grown or raised, nutrient — dense, thoughtfully prepared. They are not fads. I opted for this business because traditional foods are foods in their original form, and not modernised, not processed, not packaged.”
At Gava, emphasis is on foods that are simple and basic such as meat and poultry, eggs, whole grains, fish, beans and legumes; vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds, dairy and fats.
Gava said his hope is to provide genuine traditional meals that the ancestors used to eat.
Health benefits from traditional foods
Anthropological data suggest that cultures subsisting entirely or largely on native, unrefined foods prepared according to time-honoured traditions enjoy better health than people consuming modern foods.
Diabetes, a high blood sugar condition, currently affects about 46 percent of Zimbabwean adults.
All diabetes’ non-communicable cousins are also threatening to dislodge HIV/AIDS as the number one killer in the country.
A 2014 World Health Organisation (WHO) report shows that diseases such as hypertension, cancer, heart attacks or strokes, now account for almost 31 percent of all deaths in Zimbabwe, twice as much as they did 20 years ago.
Worldwide, at least 23 million people die each year from non-communicable diseases.
Gava claims that infertility, heart diseases, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, mental illness, obesity and dental cavities, among others, were largely absent in cultures that survived on a native diet of unrefined foods.
Gava says it was time agriculture stakeholders formulated strategies to promote small grain production, primarily to enhance food security and the health of citizens.
Currently, small grains are not readily available, resulting in price increases riding on firming demand for the products.
The country’s agricultural region five, which does not receive a lot of rains, used to be the biggest producer of small grains.
Said Gava: “My hope is that relevant industries and hotel schools will take note and use historical information to help us recover our lost cuisine.”
Special arrangement with farmers
Gava has a special arrangement with farmers in areas like Mutoko and Mt Darwin to provide zviyo on regular basis.
He has a similar arrangement with a farmer who supplies him hanga (birds) and tsuro (domesticated hare).
Farai Mutemeri, a commercial farmer in Masvingo, said many of the recommended traditional foods can be grown in one’s backyard, to cut costs.
Mutemeri admitted that some farmers have also turned to genetically modified (GMs) seeds for vegetable and fruit production as well as the use of poisonous pesticides and fertilisers to increase yields.
He appealed for Government support in the drive to grow small grains so as to reduce the cost of traditional food.
“It is sad that traditional food is expensive at restaurants yet it’s made from local produce,” said Mutemeri.