Let’s take a short break from the nauseating politics and dig our teeth into a rather meaty subject.
There has been much gnashing of teeth and declarations of vegetarianism after the media reported butchers around Kampala using chemicals to preserve their meat. Your columnist has followed the brouhaha with bemusement.
Some of the reporting around it has been the equivalent of shouting fire in a crowded theatre: the butchers are either using formalin or formaldehyde or insecticide or god-knows-what on the meat; and they are doing so to either preserve it, chase away flies, or give it a come-get-me sheen to lure buyers.
Neither is it clear what the health risks are, what quantities are likely to put our lives on the chopping board, how to spot ‘polished meat’ and so on.
To be honest, we in the media have as much blood on our hands as the butchers on this one!
But the whole episode is revealing in many ways. First, (and read this sentence in a certain accent, with a straight face) it is a sign of the progress and development we have achieved under the NRM government since 1986 that the complaint is not about access to meat but the quality of the meat. It is not which butcher, but what meat!
Secondly, I am not sure how many declarations of vegetarianism are driven by genuine concerns about the hygiene of the meat industry and how much of it has to do with post-Christmas excesses underlined by the January blues.
If it is the former, then these concerns should have been triggered a long time ago by the sight of cattle crammed into trucks being driven to slaughter.
Or by concerns about the state of the main abattoir serving Kampala, which is bang in the city. You don’t need Google Maps to find it; you just follow the smell of animal waste and burning flesh and skin.
Not only is this inefficient land use, anyone who attends any of the nearby offices or lines up at the passport office close by is bound to go away smelling dubiously like a he-goat. How do we expect such a state of affairs at the source to improve down the food chain?
In fact, without appearing to give short shrift to the genuine concerns about what ends up on our plates and palates, why are we indifferent to all the cutting of corners or the other destructive practices that go on around us?
Filling station owners adding kerosene to their petrol. Mercury-laced cosmetics competing for shelf-space with lead-based paints. Milk vendors topping off their cans with water.
Car mechanics charging an arm and a leg for ‘parts and labour’ when all they did was change a fuse and tighten a bolt. Builders skimping on cement so that they can sell it to the site next door.
‘Beef samosas’ that are all wheat and no beef.
We have even got to a point where women wear fake hair, fake eye-lashes, fake bums and fake breasts on dates, in what can only be described as obtaining love (or money) by false pretense! (I am told that fake six-packs for men exist but thankfully any man my age, who attempts such foolishness over their portly middle will only succeed in walking around looking like he is about to deliver a can of beers).
Seriously, though, these things add up. Once it becomes okay for people in one trade or profession to cut corners, others in other professions do the same.
A shopkeeper, who removes two slices from the middle of a loaf of bread (true story!) is down there with a lawyer, who hangs onto some money meant for his client. And a mechanic who puts counterfeit brake pads in your car should be on the cross next to the doctor who cuts through the wrong organ because he ‘graduated’ from one of those universities that you can fit in a 20-foot container.
So, not to put too fine a point on it or put you off your breakfast, but if you are worried that your chunk of T-bone steak was marinated in cancerous cells or sprayed with some dubious concoction, it probably was. Unless, of course, you held your nose and wadded through the dung at the abattoir to buy it fresh from the source, or hunted down a bull on a farm in Nakasongola yourself. If the steak is chewy that’s probably from the DDT. Bon appetit!
Mr Kalinaki is a journalist and a poor man’s freedom fighter. firstname.lastname@example.org