This past weekend I visited my local corner shop to grab some ingredients for a dish I planned. As far as fresh produce goes, my local corner shop is one of the better ones in town. Deep down, I was hoping that they would have some local Kalahari truffles, as they are one of the only shops in town that sells these local delicacies.
Much to my disappointment they did not have any truffles, but I did notice some large, delicious-looking pomegranates. Without a second thought, I grabbed two, and after adding a few additional items, headed for the checkout counter.
At first, I thought there must be some mistake. Surely two pomegranates weighing just about one kilogram, cannot cost N$84! At today’s exchange rate, that would be US$7.60 or €6.60. When I asked the assistant if she’d not perhaps made a tiny mistake, she shrugged and showed me the pricelist. “No my dear, these days we work only to buy food.”
To put this into perspective, per kilogram, pomegranates are more expensive than most cuts of beef, lamb or chicken! It costs more than twice the price of minced beef. It is simply ludicrous. Or is it?
As a young child in southern Namibia, one of the hottest and driest parts of the country, we had an abundance of fresh fruit from our own back yard. Figs, black mulberries (moerbeie), lemons, oranges and naartjies. From the open veld across from our house we picked prickly pears and bitter melons. Grandpa even kept chicken in his back yard.
I accept: those days are long gone. But, let us be honest, living in our capital city is expensive – really, really, expensive.
Let us consider only the cost of food. Assume we each need 2,000 calories a day, and that we require a balanced diet that includes proteins, starches, fruits and vegetables. If our calories are obtained from a basket of food that include: Milk, White Bread, Rice, Eggs, Local Cheese, Chicken Breasts, Apples, Oranges, Tomato, Potato, and Lettuce, the total daily cost of food per person amount to close to N$67. This translates to a staggering N$2,060 per person per month, if you live in the capital city (unfortunately no data is available for other towns). As you can see, this does not include any luxury foods or special treats.
Comparatively, the same basket of goods will cost R53 per day and N$1,641 per month in Cape Town, South Africa. Johannesburg is only slightly more expensive than Cape Town (R54 and R1,693).
Back to our promegrande. One kilogram of pomegranate costs more than what is required for a balanced, basic diet for a Namibian consuming 2,000 calories. Prickly pears are not much cheaper, and I have not seen a bitter melon in ages. These are but of few of our forgotten fruits. Once in abundance in our urban back yards, now a near unaffordable luxury in our supermarkets. What happened? Where had it all gone?
No doubt the answer to this problem is complicated and the formula contains many variables. First, our approach to urban planning has changed, and back yards have all but disappeared. Urban land is scarce and thus ridiculously expensive. Out with backyards, and in with asphalt covers. Second, we have lost interest in growing our own food. The supermarket is far more convenient even if the food is expensive. Third, no-one, including local authorities and the central government ascribes any priority to small food producers, let alone those in urban areas. Fourth, we have chosen esthetics over sustenance. Where open spaces are available, we would much rather cover them with lawns and flowers than vegetable gardens. Right around the capital city, life style estates are erected with strict prescriptions over what can be planted. None allow for vegetable gardens, beehives or green houses, but golf courses are just fine.
I could go on, but I am running out of space.
The point is, as a nation, we are in trouble and we continue sinking every day. We do not produce enough food of our own, and think we could go on relying on the modern, commercialized food system to provide for our daily needs. A quick peek around the rest of the globe shows that this is a fallacy that comes at a high cost.
Around the globe urban communities are starting to ‘re-peasantize’ themselves. Despite the obvious constraints ‘urban peasants’ are growing and producing fabulous food. At the hart of these efforts is the notion of community, something that is disappearing rather rapidly from our urban society. Combined with creativity, determination and commitment, there endless possibilities. Prime honeys are produced from beehives kept on city rooftops and in suburban gardens. Vacant and abandoned land is made fertile with domestic kitchen waste and used for community gardens. Micro-bakeries run from domestic kitchens are producing bread-on-demand for entire neighbourhoods. Foragers sell forgotten herbs at local markets, and office workers have turned into weekend gelato-makers. Garages and basements have been turned into fermentation centers and retirees devote their time to baking or making pasta.
The urban peasant movement is obsessed with knowledge and sharing. Every one is teaching every one about food: ingredients, food craft, flavours and techniques. Everyone is linked to everyone else in the community and they have each other’s backs. Money stay and flow through the community, and a dollar saved by one, is saved by all, but most of all, the system sustains itself.
Which brings me to the N$84 question: why not here?
Why do those with land not produce pomegranates? Or prickly pears? Or edible flowers? Or honey? Or milk and cream? Or backyard chicken and duck? Or vegetables?
I do not know the answer but I suspect it have something to do with it being too much trouble, or too expensive, or too demanding. Any which way, there will be an excuse.
For now, I figured if I collected all the seeds from my two pomegranates, suppress all impulses to binge, and eat only one seed a day, I might have enough pomegranate to last me until the end of the year. That should give me enough time to ponder an exciting new food venture.
For this week’s recipe, I have used one of our “forgotten” meats: goat.
Given that we export all our goats, and sell none locally in butcheries, I bought one from farmer that I reserve to cook for special occasions. I recon paying N$84 for two pomegranates, is a special enough occasion, so I spent all Sunday morning braising the goat shoulder the proper way. If you do not have goat (I won’t be surprised) use lamb instead but reduce the braising time with an hour or so.