When an intellectual in the academia is elevated to the status of a professor, such a person is expected to inaugurate the professorial chair. It comes in the form of a lecture, where such people share with the academic community and the public, some of the academic works, research and findings in the chosen field of academic endeavour.
Such occasions also serve as one where the person is celebrated for making the rigorous and arduous academic journey to that point. The vice-chancellor of such a university would pronounce that the person had successfully inaugurated his or her chair as a professor in that field of study. Such an inaugural lecture held on Thursday, March 8, 2018, at Ajayi Crowther University, Oyo. Professor Oladunni Akinnawo inaugurated her chair as a professor of food chemistry in a lecture chaired by the vice-chancellor, Rt. Rev. Professor Dapo Asaju, also Bishop-Theologian of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion), founders of the thriving university, which has gone through quantum transformation under Asaju’s watch. Professor Akinnawo, one of the arrowheads in the Faculty of Natural Sciences of the university, showed her dexterity and expertise in her chosen field in her lecture, titled “Nigerian Foods for Good Nutrition and Optimal Health.” She noted that Nigerian foods have all the nutrients required to achieve optimal health. However, there seems to be a restriction to just a few when the country is endowed with about 70 crops used as food. She said there were six cereals, eight roots and tubers, nine oil crops, four pulses, 22 fruits, 20 leaves and fruits. In spite of these, Nigerians, she said, have restricted themselves to a few, notably garri, pounded yam, fufu, amala , rice and tuwo. She encouraged the addition of millet, sorgum, oats, wheat, unripe plantain, sweet patato, local rice and others. She said it should be a rule of the thumb for people to ensure that they eat fruits every day.
Among her several findings, an outstanding one startled this writer: bakers still use potassium bromate in baking bread, 25 years after the compound had been banned for that purpose. Professor Akinnawo stated this while delivering the ninth inaugural lecture at Ajayi Crowther University, Oyo. Inaugural lectures are part of the several innovations in academic and infrastructural spheres that have come with the inception of Asaju’s tenure as vice-chancellor.
She said the compound is added to bread dough to strengthen it, increase loaf volume, and improve the texture. She said the compound can cause sore throat, abdominal pains, Diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, kidney and heart failure. She revealed that studies have linked the compound to cancer in experimental animals and humans and has been classified as a potential carcinogen. She said in spite of the banning of its usage in Nigeria since 1993, her recent study of its usage in Ibadan and Oyo towns indicated the use of potassium bromate in 72 per cent of the samples used; a clear indicator that the compound is still in use. She called on the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) to intensify enlightenment and enforcement of the ban. There is need for NAFDAC to intensify monitoring and enlightenment in this matter.
The popular maxim amongst nutritionists is that “you are what you eat.” It rankles the heart that some bakers do this, either in ignorance or in furtherance of their bid to make more money. There is still need for more enlightenment on this matter so that more Nigerians are not sent to early graves on account of what they eat. In this matter of bread, there has to be a way for NAFDAC to tell people how to identify bread baked with pottassim bromate. The agency should not relent in the campaign against the harmful compound. Akinawo also advised Nigerians to diversify their food choices rather than being restricted to garri, fufu, amala, rice and tuwo as it seems to be the case. She said Nigeria was blessed with a large variety of food, about 70 crops that can serve as food items. She acknowledged that rice production has been on the rise in the country such that government has banned its importation.
“This is a step in the right direction, but rice is not the only food that Nigerians eat and need. Just as the government is diversifying the economy, there is need to diversify crop species for production and consumption. Emphasis should be on producing more of food crops like maize, yam, fruits, leafy fruits and vegetables … there is need to enlarge our food basket to increase most of crop species, a large variety of diets can be available to promote good nutrition and encourage optimal health,” she stated in her paper. The professor, who teaches in the Faculty of Natural Sciences, Ajayi Crowther University, Oyo, also discouraged some contemporary food practices, saying they were generally harmful. She said studies have also shown that the uncontrolled use of additives, in making snacks in fast food houses, has resulted in weight gain in adults and obesity in adolescents. She said wrapping of moin-moin in leaves, while cooking it, is better than wrapping it in polythene or other materials, as the leaves preserve the taste and make it more hygienic.
Another harmful food practice, which yours sincerely has found to be rampant, is the forced ripening of fruits. This is done through the use of calcium carbide or hot ash or both. Those who travel on the Lagos-Benin expressway normally stop at Ore, Ondo State, to refresh and continue on their journey. In that place and other places, there is banana every time of the year. There are speculations that most of the fruits are forced to ripen for consumption through artificial processes. This may also be injurious to health, which is why NAFDAC should step up its enlightenment campaign. Nigerians must continue to be told not to harm themselves though dangerous food practices. I would end this piece with a quote from Professor Akinnawo’s paper: “Nigerian foods and diets that are conducive to healthy living are many, and their consumption should be encouraged to promote optimal health. Those practices that are inimical to good nutrition and optimal health should be modified or jettisoned from the culinary landscape.”
Such things as use of potassium bromate in baking bread and the forced ripening of fruits should be stopped. We should stop harming and killing ourselves though what we eat.