Monday, July 28, 2014

My Munchable Soapbox: A Balancing Act

You know when you were a kid, trying to walk a line with a book placed on the top of your head? Your mother or teacher always told you that it helps to develop good posture and cultivates a straight spine. In this land of carrying any and every thing on your head, people do stand up very straight and tall. Young ladies, old ladies, tall men, short men, boys, girls; they all transport items casually resting on their crowns. While I have to say that it is quite a bit easier for the shoulders or back to use the head, it is hard not to be impressed by some of the items in transit (not to mention the people carrying them). A bowl full of cassava is very heavy. Logs are long and unwieldy. Palm wine runs the risking of tipping and showering sticky sweet beverage all over the unhappy porter.

This balancing act that almost the entire population of Ghana seems to be performing, also is a pretty apt metaphor for the lives these same people lead. I’m primarily chatting with cocoa farmers day in and day out, but their daily decisions reach far beyond the commodity. When farming, it is like you are confronting a scale, weighing the costs and benefits of each practice, each expenditure. Though most people don’t really go through an economic (monetarily, but also opportunity costs) analysis every time they decide to do something, there is some element of a balance sheet when choosing whether adding fertilizer is worth the high price if cocoa yield is uncertain. Or, spraying pesticide when last year there was no serious infestation. Put time in and labour into weeding, or spend some money and apply chemicals.

The field is just the start. I think particularly because of the nature of cocoa farming – where there is one major harvest, and then another one or two smaller ones – the prevalence of also balancing multiple modes of employment seems high. A guy might farm, but perhaps Wednesday he acts as a driver. A woman may own or help on a cocoa farm, but the cassava, maize, plantain, and cocoyam she grows feeds the family, or the gari she sells helps pay for school fees. Perhaps it’s my naiveté, but farming seems to necessitate flexibility to change, according to the environment and weather yes, but also to shifting politics and economic circumstances.

A balancing act it is, but that makes up only a small piece. Juggling (with cocoa pods?) may be the more appropriate comparison!

As a bonus to my rant, it’s been a while since you’ve gleaned any recipes from my musings. So today you get some eggplant stew. These minute garden eggs (or nyaaduwa in Twi) are sold everywhere and make a really nice base for a stew.
No-Name Stew
1-2 tbs oil
½ onion, minced
1 cup tomatoes, chopped and seeded
2 cups eggplant, diced and salted
1 cup hardy green (like collards or spring), shredded
1 tbs tomato paste + 3 tbs water
¼ cup light coconut milk (I had to grind up fresh coconut!!)
1 tsp cayenne pepper, ground (or more to taste)
1 tsp curry spice of choice (or more to taste)
Salt to taste

1.     Heat oil in a medium pot over medium-high heat. Sautee onions until starting to brown. Add tomatoes and cover the pot. Allow to stew on medium heat for about 7-10 minutes, until tomatoes are really starting to break down.
2.     Add the eggplant, after draining and rinsing. Stir and cover again, cooking for another 10 minutes or so. Mix in the coconut milk, tomato paste water, and curry spice, and then cover the pot for another 5 minutes.
3.     Maybe pour in some more water if it’s not stew-y enough, and then place the greens in the pot. Cover and let simmer another 5-10 minutes. Stir so that greens get incorporated and distributed, then lower heat and let stew another 5-10 minutes.
4.     When you think it’s about ready, serve over rice (or something of that sort). Lentils would also be a nice addition, but could not get my hands on any here.

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