My dinner last night here in Uganda was 40c (1000 Ugandan Shillings). It was a mix of beautiful hand grown, harvested and organic potatoes (there are no chemicals used at the single farmer level here as they can’t afford them and are so experienced in agriculture anyway) with a simple source of g-nut (ground nut – similar to peanuts) sauce, which also is readily grown locally and made from mincing the nuts together to form a paste and thinned out with some water, a touch of salt and a dash of oil.
Obviously the cost of the meal covered the costs and then a little extra for the wonderful experienced mother-chef. She cooked it on a charcoal burner and served it in the dark on some simple hand made bench seats in a plastic bowl with a spoon.
She makes enough to live, the whole process probably takes around 5-6 hours a day and she provides almost an essential service to the young and old workers who rely upon this food to survive both nutritionally and financially. These people don’t have their own family or time to cook their own simple meals and can’t effort faster cooking food or the utensils to cook it.
I have a good friend who spent many years in the restaurant business in Australia and in the end would not have been much ahead of this women by the time he: sourced quality ingredients, make well known dishes, pay innovative chefs and friendly staff and advertising to attract a high number of customers – all this just to try and get ahead while working mostly 12-hour-or-more days for the past 10 years.
So my question is this one – why can’t we purchase a meal for 40c (or more likely $1 when you compare the purchasing power parity) in Australia? And more than that why don’t we have access to simple, nutritious and readily available meals in the ‘developed’ world?
Yes I know one of those reasons is that the people here in Africa earn little more than survival wages but I don’t see that as being the biggest barrier here. The meals they sell have to be that low so it is affordable to the major demand. Plus here it is not about making huge profit for huge ‘things’ it is about having a sufficient livelihood to be healthy and aspire for their kids to have an education (and yes, they all want what the west has but it very much a want [and not realistic] than a need – and I am not playing the noble savage card here either).
Suppose we even if we bridge the gap a little more between Australia and Uganda and the meal was $3 in Australia, served without need of a lot of infrastructure, was soundly hygienic (as was the mother-chef in Uganda). If they made enough food in bulk of potatoes with a simple sauce and served 100 of these dishes a day and cleared a modest but sufficient $100 profit a day, while at the same time providing a more nutritional, locally sourced and community minded meal.
Compare this with the state of reality in Australia where the cheapest meal is usually produced by a large corporation using heavily processed and ethically poor practices to make big profits that will largely never see light in that local community and while making the local people fat, unhealthy and poor.
I am a huge advocate of simplicity and it is because of these sorts of reasons. When you see something has so much benefit to the entire community and environment yet we in the ‘sophisticated’ ‘developed’ west manage to take common sense and reality so far away from simplicity it make me frustrated and scratch my head at best.
It is not about highlighting simplicity in Africa as noble savages it is about the myriad of facets and lessons we can learn from Africa.
C’mon Australia what wrong with selling roasted potatoes or corn on the street corner – far better than any highly processed and industrialised corporate snack you will get!