The magnificent mealie

The magnificent mealie, once refined, has become the prime-cause of obesity and diabetes in South Africa. Utterly tasteless one has to ladle on the sugar, adding to the problem.

Is it not ironic that one of the most delicious, nutritious and readily-available foods grown in South Africa has also been one of the prime causes of the downward spiral of our wellness, and leading indirectly to the tragic death of so many from Covid? More than half of those dying from the virus are obese or diabetic.

It's inexpensive too.

Let me explain. One seed of an open-pollinated variety like Border King costs about 5c. Or, planted in your garden, five rand will supply you with a mealie a day for 3 months. Having just enjoyed a cob most days for the last two and a half months, I can assure you that it fills a gaping void. No one eating fresh-corn need be hungry.

Enjoy a green mealie and a salad, with a bit of cheese, chicken or hummus, and you know you have had an elephant-sufficiency.

Magnificent mealies in a pot.

There’s much talk these days about the microbiome; those friendly bugs in the gut that have a very important function in our overall well-being. They are utterly dependent for food on the fibre that resists digestion in the small intestine, but reaches the colon. Mealies are a rich supply of this insoluble starch which also helps with another nasty; constipation. Pick the cob when it is young, steam it and chew it slowly and thoroughly.

Green mealies are particularly rich in two carotenoids called lutein and zeaxanthin that help prevent macular degeneration and cataracts. And another, ferulic acid, that contributes to regulation of blood sugar and cholesterol. The germ contains many important vitamins, minerals and important oils; and some protein.

A little butter actually helps with the absorption of some of these phytochemicals, and lowers the glycemic-index, but of course adds to the calories. The olive oil on your salad would achieve the same purpose.

In short corn on the cob is affordable, highly-nutritious and readily available.

But grind that magnificent mealie, remove the germ and bran, and you have a deadly pap with no more nutrition than cake-flour and, because it has lost its flavour, demands several spoonfuls of sugar. It has made South African women more obese than the Americans and the Brits and is the prime reason why diabetes afflicts at least 13% of our people; in some communities the rate is over thirty percent.

Refined mealiemeal is a killer; it should not be considered a food.

Another reason I like mealies is that the stalks make wonderful compost, giving bulk and allowing air into the heap.

It is a great shame that the magnificent mealie has been tarred with the same brush as refined-grain, and is completely banned for those who are banting; one cob contains about 25 grams of total carbohydrate, but only a half is in a digestible form.

Understanding how net carbs work is essential if you have a problem with obesity.

By contrast one cup of mealie-meal contains 117 grams of carbohydrate all of which is digested in the small intestine, the sugars absorbed directly into the portal bloodstream from which they have to be sucked up by the liver. There it is converted to fat and stored in the white adipose tissue; it's a disaster.

It is no coincidence that over the summer enjoying a cob a day I have lost about a kilogram of weight.

I started this column with the title, "O, die mielie is een wonderlike ding." Truth be told, you have to work quite hard to find whole grains today; those that are not highly-refined. I wouldn't be surprised if you have cornflakes and mealiemeal in the pantry, but I wonder how many of you reading this have actually eaten just one cob this summer.

The research is strong that whole grains lower the risk of heart disease and diabetes; but mealiemeal is junk food of the highest order. Don’t touch it unless you can get it freshly-milled from the farmer which alas is unlikely.

Mealiemeal porridge.

This is the real deal. Unless you have an uncle in the milling business you simply cannot buy the freshly-ground wholegrain meal.

It is sold at Reko farmers' market in Hilton in the Midlands of South-Africa at "B's Best." Can you guess who that is?

B's best roller-mill.

"Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil and you're a thousand miles from the corn-field." 
Dwight D. Eisenhower


Genetically modified

Monsanto's gift to the world.

Informed opinion seems to be so divided on the subject of genetically-modified food, and I confess to being utterly unsure where the truth lies. Eventually it will come out. Meantime I'll stick to the magnificent mealie.

As a general rule though I'm suspicious of modern agriculture and big companies like Monsanto and Bayer. Open-pollinated Border King from the garden tastes great, is very cheap and there is no anxiety, so why pay a fortune for GM maize? It does mean some weeding until cover is reached. 

A Winterton farmer planted a large circle under a pivot, one half to GM maize, and the other to an open pollinated variety. One night his cattle broke a fence down to get to the fodder; they made a real meal of the non-GM corn, but didn't touch the hybrid.

I know the corn I feed to my chickens is genetically modified, and it's very clear that they only eat it under protest. I have a new non-GM source directly from the farmer; I'll be reporting how they take to it in the future. Ironically it will be cheaper, but I may have to drive a 300km round trip to get it. 

I suspect that we will conclude that cattle and bird-brain hens have more sense than humans!

Corn in flower is the promise of months of wonderful food in the not too distant future.


"The Western Cape stands to lose R357-billion in household spending from stunting and up to R590-billion from obesity by 2040."

- 2018 FuturesCape report


Nearly a third of SA's children are permanently stunted, mentally or physically, and 13% are overweight or obese. Can we afford to neglect child malnutrition?

What's potting in your summer vegetable garden?

Of course, water scarcity in the world threatens not just the magnificent mealie but the well-being of a great many children in South Africa. Our solution has been to build an underground reservoir so we can harvest and store the rain; we have used municipal water for only two months in ten years at the height of two droughts.

Our green garden has an abundant supply of pristine, unchlorinated water for irrigation.

Our underground brick reservoir.

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The magnificent mealie

The magnificent mealie is a delicious, inexpensive and nutritious food.

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