There’s something very special about South Africans. We’re pithy, dry and sometimes a little macabre. This listeriosis outbreak has already launched hundreds of jokes, threads and memes.
Youtuber and social commentator Okay Wasabi (who does a Kota review at various purveyors of processed meats) has already been referenced in an ironic prediction of the outbreak:
Without diminishing the matter at hand, we know that Listeriosis can be a very serious, life threatening bacterial infection that is food borne and most prevalent in processed meats, which has resulted in a country wide recall of polony. No one is laughing about the 180 people who have died.
Considering that polony makes up probably a kota of the majority of South African staple diets, you can imagine the effect that it’s had on households.
My initial response to the polony recall of 2018 is that we have actually done our people a favour.
Listeriosis has claimed close to two hundred lives but how many of our loved ones are affected by cancer and diabetes which contributed to just over 7% of deaths amongst women in South Africa in 2015.
In my mind, both of these diseases are directly linked to the food we are eating. Just from my personal experience with a cancer survivor and having learned from kinesiologists, nutritionists, I've also overcome an auto-immune disease after adjusting my diet accordingly.
Growing up I was mocked for having so many allergies and having to have “weird food” at school.
I wasn’t allowed much that contained any wheat, dairy, msg, tartrazine, preservatives, sugar and fizzy drinks.
It left for slim pickings and by the time I was in my 20s if I saw one more lentil, rye-based crispbread with peanut butter on (do you have any idea how dry that is?!) or some version of cabbage with lots of garlic that my folks lovingly mustered up, I thought I was going to die.
I mean I didn’t really think I was going to die but at that age I was so oblivious to the sacrifices my parents were making to make sure that I could eat well.
I do however think that this might have contributed to my rebellion later in life. Where I tried to see how many poisons I could fit into my body. But that’s another story for another column. Turns out my mom may have been right about a lot of things.
On turning 30, and having being diagnosed with alopecia, I realised that this body of mine is a machine and that I was fueling it with toxins and expecting good results.
Bad food, drinking, drugs etc led to me experience extreme depression and anxiety making it very difficult for me to hold down jobs and be a functioning member of society.
We really do have to watch what we put in our bodies, with all due respect with what families can actually afford.
Or sometimes think we can afford.
Here’s the thing. We often think that eating more accessible food is cheaper when in fact items like beans, lentils and chickpeas are far more nutritious, and a lot cheaper.
A 500g bag of raw lentils can cost around R20 and serve about 12 people. I know because my gran found all kinds of ways to serve lentils, beans and cabbage and taught us how to survive on little to no money.
Having survived a war, she'd learned a few tricks. She still has fresh produce growing in her little pot plants and we often have fresh peppers, lettuce, tomatoes, lemons and a variety of healthy home grown veggies.
There was also the time that she cooked my aunt’s pet chicken, but we’re not allowed to talk about it.
(Having said all of the above, let me admit now that I do still smoke the odd cigarette but that’s on me. I know what it does.)
Back to the part where the whole country laughed at a polony recall: My timeline on twitter was riddled with listeriosis gags but my absolute favourite was a thread by the Abantu Book Festival account on Twitter, that replaced words in the titles of books with the word polony or other processed meat. I was in stitches.
“Love in the Time of Polony”; “Memories of My Melancholy Wors”; “Inyama, My Children”… I threw in some of my own: “Ways of Dying” (although someone beat me to it) and “I Bite What I Like”.
It carries on: “The Quiet Violence of Russians”; “Who Moved My Polony”; “Half of a Yellow Salami”.
It’s just a riot!
No matter what is thrown at us South Africans, we will find a way to laugh.
You can take away our kotas but you won’t take our Freedom (of Expression)!
Hope you find your lentils.