It is lunchtime in Abuja and workers from boutiques, wine shops, air-conditioned offices, construction sites and classrooms are headed to various fast food restaurants where they meet up with their friends to refuel their bodies, discuss the happenings of the day and settle business deals. Their meals contain different ingredients and taste good. This sweetness is something they are akin with.
It does not taste like a homemade meal but it is manageable. This sweetness is the effect of stock cubes popularly called Maggi. Soon they head back to their offices, some are drowsy, some are chatty, some who are not used to the concentration of the seasoning would have a bowel disorder immediately, but these men and women would repeat this action the next day and through the week. Stock cubes or bouillon cubes sometimes contain dehydrated vegetables or meat stock and are surely filled with Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) and fat. Certain early advertisements of stock cubes boasted that they would “improve meat dishes” and “make good dishes better.”
They also claimed that “digestion is assisted” and “development of a healthy physique and an active mind is promoted.” Even now adverts still promise improving iron and calcium in the body. MSG gives a special aroma in food and is particularly sweet but its extensive usage has been linked to major conditions like obesity, metabolic disorders and has effects on the nervous system, inflaming the liver and affecting both male and female reproductive systems, causing them to malfunction. Even outside restaurants stock cubes are used in preparing sauces, stews, soups, the popular jollof rice. They are added to meat and fish for taste. Stock cubes are of different brands including Dan Cube, Mr. Chef, Knorr, Royco, Maggi Star, Gino, Doyin and other names too. Whatever the brand, they all have the same effects on the body. The consistent use of stock cubes in Nigerian meals is what Eniola Yusuf, a dietician at the Alex Ekwueme Federal University Teaching Hospital describes as the “abuse” of food seasoning and consequent addiction to it. Indeed, many would not be able to take their meals without it.
An owner of a fast food joint at Wuse Two who sells roasted yam and plantain, rice and beans said it helped her with creating her signature taste with just the right combination. But what is the right combination? New National Star observed after sampling meals in various restaurants around Abuja and interacting with those who frequent these spots that the meals did come off as ‘salty’ sometimes or too sweet. Yusuf confirms this. “I can vouch that lots of seasoning go into the making of these meals to enhance their flavour. This is not a healthy practice.”
“A person that pays attention to their health will not eat outside. Homemade meals are way more healthier than fast food as we don’t know the quantity of seasoning that goes in.” Salome Oyelakin, a teacher who said she usually ate in her home than out of it when asked if she understood the health implications of the food additive said, “I didn’t know there was any.
I just have some people who were told to stop taking it because of their health but these people were sick before.” People who are usually asked to stay off stock cubes are elderly people which then causes the general impression that it is only old age that creates a need to stay away from them but Yusuf rejects this idea. “Young or old, people have to stop using them. Most older people are even more used to natural additives. Young people have to stop using them because they are not healthy. Or at least they could reduce their usage of it.
The young will grow old and the unhealthy habit they don’t curtail now will be very difficult to control when older,” she said. Natural food seasoning could be ginger, garlic, onions, crayfish, iru, ogiri, pepper, turmeric, cinnamon, and many others. Yusuf said that there were a lot of options to choose from without necessarily leaving one’s food bland. The dietician added that the government could intervene and prevent an impending health crisis by creating awareness of the dangers inherent in stock cubes. She also asked for regulations for fast food owners on their use of seasoning.
“There could be a set of people whose jobs is to sample meals in these places and check for the quantity of sodium content. The government could also try to make healthier policies.” This approach would be helpful for those with busy schedules who needed the energy gotten from food to continue their activities.