By Vivian Onyebukwa And Vera Wisdom-Bassey
In Lagos, many low-cost restaurants and food service centres have continued to spring up, in low and high-brow areas of the metropolis, patronized by the low-income group. They include roadside food sellers, among others.
At Ijegun Bus Stop, you’re surprised by the number of people milling around Gladys Chukwuma, a roadside food seller. At Ijesha, Surulere, Iya Bolaji operates a booming restaurant. She told our correspondents that she sells food from early in the morning to schoolchildren and workers and closes late in the evening. She has been in the business for more than 15 years. On Adeniyi Jones, Ikeja, Mama Kelechi opens her roadside eatery at 6 pm and closes at 10 pm. Iya Alimi who sells rice without stew and fufu without soup, at Ikeja starts at 5 am.
At Ikeja under the bridge, just beside Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH), a middle-aged woman named Risikatu uses the wheeled cart to market her food. She is mostly patronised by passers-by and men and women doing business around Oando filling station.
‘Why we prefer eating out’
Patrick Robert insists that at times, it is cheaper to eat out than to cook at home. He said: “With N500 one can buy rice, beans, ponmo, plantain, no matter how little. But to prepare this at home can cost not less than N2, 000, especially with the present economic crisis. So it is more advantageous to buy food than to cook at home.”
A banker, Jane Joseph, said that with the nature of her job, some companies have made it difficult to take homemade food to the office. She said as a banker, she has to be at work early and close late. “This is why one cannot afford to eat at home most times.”
Toun, a motor park tout in Ogun State, agrees that eating out is cheaper than cooking at home. He said: “With N300, you will get satisfied. Since I don’t have a pot to cook with, the best place to eat is at the canteen. Again, the cost of buying food items is expensive. Before I reach home after work, time would have gone. So most times I go to a joint to eat and satisfy myself.” Olarenwaju also shares same views. “The cost of cooking gas is high. Moreover, it is stressful to go to the market and put food items and come back home to cook them. N10, 000 will not be enough for three of us living under the same roof.”
A security man listening to the conversation quipped: “We are not allowed to cook where I live because it is owned by some White men. You can only do your security work. If you are hungry, you are on your own. We have no option than to go out and look for what to eat. The cost of buying a big man’s food is too much, so the little money they pay me, I use it to help myself and my family.”
Why don’t eat out anymore
But there are some people who said they no longer eat out. One of them, Anne Ekwem, a sales representative, explained why. “I used to eat out during lunch. But one day, after buying and eating egusi and eba, I I started vomiting and rushing to the toilet. I visited the toilet several times before everything could subside. But that was after taking some drugs. Since then I have stopped eating out. In these days of hardship and everyone trying to cut corners, you can’t know what they used in preparing the food or whether they took proper hygienic measures while doing so. These days, I try to bring my food from home even though it is not easy.”
Emmanuel Ekeh, a businessman said his own problem started after he finished eating white soup and eba for lunch in one of the eateries located near where he sells cosmetics. “That was the last meal I took for the day because it was already late when I took it. When I got home, in the middle of the night, I started feeling pain and uneasy. My tummy started showing some distress signs. At first, I did not understand what was happening. I started frequenting the toilet. After some time, I collapsed. The next time I opened my eyes, I saw myself on the floor, probably because the tiles were cold. I discovered that it was food poisoning, I had to take some drugs”
He said after experiencing food poisoning the second time, he stopped eating out totally.
He recalled the incident which he said happened in Kebbi State where he had gone to a wedding of an acquaintance. “I ate suya. It was cheap and surplus that I didn’t want to leave it. But it was not until the following day that I began to experience a runny stomach”
Tony Chidi, a drinks seller said he could not forget his experience with eating out when he travelled to Akwa Ibom State for an event. He recalled: “I travelled by road and arrived there late. I was hungry. So I ordered rice and chicken from the hotel where I lodged. But when I was eating, I discovered some maggots inside the chicken. That was when I realised that meat I was served had already gone bad before they served it to me. The following morning I started having a runny stomach. I defecated several times. To stop it, I had to take some antibiotics. I still eat out sometimes but I am very careful now”.
A lady, Ngozi Njoku, a petty trader at Lawanson market, narrated: “I ate rice on my way to Abaji from Lagos. But immediately I finished, I started having some bowel movements. I travelled alongside my sister. She also had that same complaint. Luckily, our vehicle broke down along the way. As soon as the driver stopped, I ran into the bush to defecate. It was a terrible experience”
But while it is good to have a good time eating out, nutritionists told Saturday Sun of its danger. Prof. Ngozi Nnam is President, the Federation of African Nutrition Society (FANUS), and former President, the Nutrition Society of Nigeria (NSN). She noted that the primary concern of the food vendors, especially those being patronised by the low-income group is not to serve a healthy combination of food items but to maximize profit.
She said: “When you eat out, you are not getting an adequate diet. This can lead to malnutrition because you are not likely to be getting fruits and vegetables, the major food group that helps you to function well. Most of these eateries prepare ‘swallow’, soup, rice, etc. These are mostly starchy. So you may not get enough protein because the meat is in different sizes and have different prices. If your resources are not enough, you go for the one you can afford, and in that way, you might not get enough protein and you may end up eating more carbohydrates. This causes obesity.”
She added that most fried food has a lot of oil and fat in them and they are not good for the body. She warned that eating out may not be totally economical and healthy. She explained: “Clients can be served food stored for more than two hours. Some restaurants serve leftover food that stayed overnight. All they do is just warm it and serve their customers. After two hours, the food is not safe again. Eat freshly made food. Don’t eat food that has stayed for more than two hours. Food is meant to be cooked and finished at the same time. Even the environment is not healthy. You see flies everywhere. They perch on dirt and then perch on the food.”
Dr Chika Ndiokwelu, a nutritionist and a senior lecturer, Department of Biochemistry, Human Nutrition and Dietetics Unit, University of Calabar said: “If you take them one by one, you should be looking at the quality of food items served, the meat and all the ingredients, etc. If you eat home-prepared food, you ensure it is properly taken care of. You ensure that everything is safe. But when it is cooked outside, you don’t even know the quality of water used in washing the plate and doing so many things. You don’t know whether the rice was sieved or not. Most times foods served outside tend to contain a lot of sodium because they add a lot of cubes like beef or chicken seasonings, and they are always high in sodium which had been implicated in a lot of diseases.
“Most times, the oil used tends to be over-saturated, and saturated fat has been implicated in many diseases. Some use transformer oil to fry akara and people should be warned. They tend to reuse oil. Oil that has been used in frying is re-used several times. When oil is heated several times like that there is something called trans-fatty acid, which are implicated in inflammation, and inflammation of the body has been implicated in obesity, cardiovascular or some heart diseases and even in some cancers.”
She also talked about the quality of meat, vegetables, food colourings and seasonings, the majority of which are non-healthy. “In any case, we are talking about the person that eats a normal diet. If it is somebody that has a disease condition that requires modification, it becomes even more difficult because looking at the soups, what did they use in thickening it? What sort of fat? For the sick, it is a no-go area. But you see some people who go in there to eat, knowing that they are on the modifier. At such times, eating out hastens their journey to the grave.”