A mealie a day provides much of the sugars and starch we need for energy.
For nearly four months we have enjoyed a mealie a day at our green home, but there was a tinge of sadness at the end. The rats ate the last two cobs. In fact they came close to stealing a third of the harvest.
For that I should be grateful; a Zulu friend confirmed that again this year he did not get one cob from his garden in Sweetwaters. The rats ate the lot and most of the pumpkins and butternut too.
I was shocked to read in the Witness recently, as I am sure many of you were, that 27% of South African children under the age of five are permanently stunted, one of the worst countries in the world. The reasons are complex, but I started wondering if the epidemic of rats, the world’s worst invader specie, are not part of the cause.
Rural children would in the past have enjoyed at least a mealie cob a day throughout the summer, but no longer. Instead schools and their parents have turned to super, number one refined maize meal to fill that gnawing hole in the belly.
Corn on the cob has a reasonable amount of protein (about 3g / cob), nearly 10% of the requirement of a growing child, but it is not complete; it is lacking in lysine and tryptophan, two essential amino acids. So a nutritious diet would need to complement that mealie with legumes, meat, eggs or dairy products.
A mealie a day is also rich in several B vitamins and many minerals; and two very important carotenoids called lutein and zeaxanthin. Without them we would go blind.
Refined maize meal, like cake flour, has zero of these nutrients; it is high on the list of truly junk food, and not fit for human consumption.
Whole mealies are high in insoluble fibre which is indigestible unless you have a blooming colon; that should contain an incredible 2kg of friendly bacteria and other bugs that together are known as the normal flora. Maas, yoghurt with live culture and kefir act as excellent sources of these probiotics. Otherwise they and whole grain maizemeal would likely give one a bellyache.
A mealie a day is a staple in many countries but once refined it becomes a junk food of the highest order, not fit for human consumption; it is one of the causes of stunting.
But the satisfaction you get from eating a young mealie that have you picked yourself in a garden, and immediately cooked, is something you'll remember all your life.
At our green home, we rely on mealies in the summer for these important nutrients, along with several varieties of green beans and eggs. That would provide the full complement of amino acids that are required to prevent stunting of our children.
If I was the Minister of Health, and concerned about South Africa’s children, I would start prodding the environmentalists to find a Pied Piper to deal with the rats; that is a very complex long term situation. My thoughts would turn to worm farming to manage the waste from our kitchens; that is the chief cause of the infestation.
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Secondly, I would completely ban refined maize meal from our school kitchens and instead contract with local farmers to provide a mealie cob a day for each child in the summer, and freshly ground wholemeal corn, and other grains like sorghum for mabela, for the rest of the year.
Thirdly, I would contract with local farmers to provide a glass of maas and an egg for each child every day.
And fourthly I would absolutely insist that the headmaster and staff would have their salaries docked by 10% if their school garden did not provide greens like spinach and beans for the children.
And lastly I would try to convince the minister of finance that refined mealie meal and cake flour should attracted a sin tax, same as sugar.
The cost would not be inconsiderable, but in comparison with a workforce, a quarter of whom are permanently mentally or physically stunted, it is minuscule. I estimate that R10 per child per day would go a long way to solving the problem. Perhaps a third of the ten million kids in primary school would need that kind of support.
It would provide a huge boost to local farmers; and the children when they see corn in flower would know that wonderful food and greater well-being were on the way.
The food manufacturing industry has ruined our mealies; here are a few tips of keeping it simple, yet wholesome.
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