Rebuilding Foundations

An exploration of international development work in Africa

South African Nachos

We’re spoiled in North America.

Most of us know that and accept it.

We hear in the media that there are food shortages in Developing Countries and shake our heads in disappointment.  But we don’t really fathom what a food shortage means.  After all, when it comes to food, we have the best of the best!  Available 24/7 all year round!

Not like those backward African nations that export so much rice that they then have grain shortages.  Why don’t those Africans do something about such an impractical system?

If only they could.

The concurrent trends of technology advances and globalization have led to huge agro-businesses controlling a significant portion of the world’s food production.  The common people – whether poor or middle-class – are increasingly segregated from food production and distribution.

I know that.  In theory.  Just like I know that mass causes gravitational pull in theory but actually I just take scientists’ word for it.

In South Africa, though, I’ve experienced minor inconveniences regarding food that put my knowledge in a new light.

For example, a lot of the fruit and vegetables here are terrible.  That really surprised me.  Why are the apples so gross?  Why are the tomatoes so flavourless? 

As my friends have explained to me, you can’t get good fruit in Joburg because it’s all exported.

“You want a good South African pineapple?  Go to London!” one friend joked.

They told me that you can get good fruit in Cape Town and sometimes Durban because it’s all exported from the ports.  People in those cities know people who know people who can get a hold of the good stuff.

Imagine smuggling fruit back into your country!

Another example of food inconveniences is that sometimes the stores run out of certain foods and you have to wait for them to restock, which can take a while.

Last week I wanted to buy tortilla chips.  I was going to a dinner party and wanted to bring Mexican food.  The Mexican food is another thing that’s terrible here!  Which astonished me because they have so many of the same basic ingredients: avocados, corn, beans, peppers, etc.  But nachos are made with Doritos, cheese, chakalaka, and avocado.  Sometimes it isn’t even cheddar cheese but cream cheese!  I didn’t know nachos could be even heavier and unhealthier, but apparently anything is possible!

Anyways, I wanted to make 7 Layer Dip (refried beans, guacamole, sour cream, cheese, chopped veggies, and cilantro – minus the meat to make it vegetarian) and home-made salsa for the party.  But both these things required tortilla chips to go with the dips.  I’d seen tortilla chips in two separate health food stores (weird place, right?) so last week I set out to buy them.

First place was out of chips on Tuesday.  Ok.  No big deal.  They were out of a lot things since the city has basically shut down over the Christmas holidays.  I’ll just go to the other store in a couple days.

Second store was out of chips on Thursday.  Dinner party was on Monday so nothing to be anxious about.  Nevertheless, I began thinking of Plan B food to bring.

Luckily I visited the first store again on Saturday morning and – lo and behold – they had restocked tortilla chips!  Mexican food was an option again!

I also bought Doritos.  Just to give it a South African twist.

It was slightly disconcerting for me to not be able to walk into any store and buy exactly what I wanted.  It took me four months to buy sesame oil!  For some reason, even the huge big box grocery stores were frequently sold out.

Then again, isn’t that what life is supposed to be like?  Sometimes the basic things are inconveniencing, but that’s ok.  You just roll with the punches and learn to make substitutes.  No big deal. 

For me, anyways.

Because I still haven’t experienced an actual food shortage.

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2 thoughts on “South African Nachos

  1. An interesting and enlightening post. I’m with you, I’ve never had to think or worry about food shortages or famine. This post really put things into perspective. Most of us are incredibly lucky in North America.

  2. Miranda on said:

    As a South African I can ensure you that your opinions stated here are very ill informed and one sided. First of all it might shock you to know that the average person in South Africa is neither upper class nor middle class, but dirt poor living under the breadline – those people begging for food at traffic lights – yeah, that’s the average thanks to Apartheid, but in rich cities you are often “saved the pain” of dealing with their reality (most South Africans reality).

    But in context of middle class living, unless there is an underground food market that I have never come across nobody “smuggles their food back into their own country” where did you get your sources from?

    South Africa is 12 cultures minimally rich, which means that the variety of ANYTHING the country has to offer is extremely vast – you will most certainly never find that variety in one place, but the options are definitely available. That being said, your experience of one culture in South Africa does not equal the experience of that person’s neighbour of another culture, so one has to very careful in summing up or otherwise known as stereotyping South Africa.

    For catering for this vast variety the country cannot merely provide for the small amount of middle and upper class that have access to delicious fruit and vegetables of superior quality – one food store chain known to supply these is Woolworths (Thank you colonialism). I honestly do not understand why your friends didn’t expose you to the upper class quality shopping experience. There is a Woolworths or three in almost every suburb in big cities… This is not a rare find.

    It is at this point where I need to highlight the obvious that you somehow overlooked during your visit… and that is price. I know the Rand’s worth is absolutely terrible in comparison to most currencies, but if you went through the trouble of calculating how much those tasteless tomatoes cost, you would have found it very affordable even to the poor. Our top quality tomatoes that you enjoy elsewhere is much more expensive… to the point where healthy living is expensive. South Africans needs are catered for by offering that very variety from poor and cheap quality food to superior, local and also imported expensive food.

    Then last but not least the point that compelled me to respond to your blog is that in 2013, 2014 and 2015 the country did not have any food shortages… our shelves are never empty and if you couldn’t find a product it does not imply that we do not have access to the product, but merely that it is currently being restocked as we speak. The main problem I sense here is the uncomfortable nature you may have with dispersed widespread variety, in other words not finding everything you need in one shop.

    We are currently however suffering a food shortages thanks to a recent drought and you will find that the middle and upper class is not drastically affected by this (in the case where there is no food to buy, as the poor are suffering), the prices of food merely increased for somebody in your and my position. But access in big cities to any existing product is never a problem.

    Thank you none the less for sharing your experience of South Africa.

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