Letter from Africa: Faking your fufu?

People eating a meal with fufu (Archive shot)

In our series of letters from African journalists, Elizabeth Ohene considers the pros and cons of eating processed food in Ghana.

I have been following the horse meat for beef scandals in Europe with very keen interest.

At first I thought it was most unlikely that the scandal would have reached Ghana.

We are not in the processed food business here; we start the preparation of every meal from scratch and therefore there is a lot of grinding and pounding in the kitchen.

Last week I took a closer look at the frozen foods section in my local supermarket and saw quite a number of frozen beef burgers on display.

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My mother could not be persuaded that the groundnut paste on sale in the shop had not been mixed with some foreign elements ”

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The countries of origin of the food packets in my supermarket seemed to be the same as the ones making news around Europe.

So I decided that there was the real likelihood that horse meat has been sold here masqueraded as beef.

Having accepted this I began thinking of the cavalier attitude we have in these parts towards the labelling of products and the implacable resistance to food processing.

As far as labelling goes, the position seems to be, you put on the product whatever label the would-be customer wants - and we are not talking only about food.

Puppy love

Take the group of young men who sell live puppies at a popular road junction in the capital city of Accra.

A friend of mine stopped by and told the young men he would buy one if they had a black one.

A Ghanaian with yams in Tamale market, Ghana (Archive shot 2008) Yam sellers can probably spot when customers do not know the difference between species

He was promised there would be a black one in two days' time.

He came back on the appointed date and bought a jet black puppy.

I do not know why he needed to wash the puppy when he got home, but to cut a long story short, after the wash, the "black" puppy emerged in its original brown colour.

My friend fell in love with the brown puppy and wondered why he had ever wanted a black one in the first place.

He learnt the lesson - he wanted a black puppy, so he was given a black puppy.

Or try buying yam and telling the seller you want a particular type when it is obvious to her you cannot tell the difference between the species.

You will be given whatever type she has that is not moving fast on the market.

As for processed food, there is a deep distrust of it here and cooking remains a long and tiresome undertaking.

Snake vs rabbit

There are homes in this country where the only way to cook chicken is to catch the live fowl running in the garden, kill it, and prepare it for cooking.

To the day she died, my beloved mother refused to buy peanut butter, or groundnut paste as we prefer to call it, to use in preparing the delicious groundnut soup that is such a regular on Ghanaian menus.

Making fufu (Archive shot) Making fufu from scratch is a long and laborious process

It might sound exotic or like some rural idyll to talk about catching a live chicken to prepare for a meal, but believe me, there is nothing remotely attractive about roasting groundnuts, peeling the husks and grinding it until you have a smooth paste before you start making a soup.

But my mother could not be persuaded that the groundnut paste on sale in the shop had not been mixed with some foreign elements and was therefore unsuitable for her soup.

Or consider the preparation of fufu, the popular Ghanaian staple made from pounding boiled yam or cassava or plantain or other such root vegetable until you get a smooth thick sticky paste.

This process takes about an hour and a lot of sweat.

Ghanaians who live abroad have accepted that fufu can be made from yam or plantain powder and the process can take about five minutes.

But Ghanaians at home claim that real fufu can only be made through the boiling and pounding process.

And yet I still cannot be sure that when Ghanaians buy rabbit meat, we are not being given snake instead - those who know tell me you cannot tell the difference in the taste - and both include a lot of bones.

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