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REEflections on food and social class: A true account of why we are what we eat

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Chef Ree Ekwere

I am sure this is not the first time you are hearing these words: “You are what you eat.”

In some scenarios, this statement can be stated as an injunction to encourage you to eat well. In other contexts, like the one I am trying to create with this piece, it’s a reflection of how people’s personality and their food preferences intersect. While trying as much as possible not to bore you, I will explore the factors that drive Nigerians’ food choices.
One of the most interesting discoveries of my 5-year career as a professional chef is that the parallel lines of personality and food preferences can cross and people are actually what they eat. Some psychologists or behavioural scientists reading this will want to argue with my theory but abeg: ‘Is it your theory?’ You are welcome to share your reservation in the comment thread, after reading this piece.

This discovery, albeit, might seem absurd, like Mungo Park screaming: “Eureka” when he first saw The Niger. Or like a white explorer, when he first laid his blue-coloured iris on dark-skinned humans. But hey… discovery is discovery abeg. So let me clear my throat and form professor like some of my University lecturers will do.

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In the Food Personality Theory, according to Chef Ree Ekwere, there are five personality types that exist across this newly uncovered food-personality dichotomy.

1. Suffer-Head Choppers
These guys are likely the statistics that Bloomberg got saw, and they instantly proclaimed Nigeria as the poverty capital of the world. These guys eat like they are war refugees, as if they have an age-long beef with stomach emptiness.

They rarely patronise your bourgeoisie restaurants in Ikoyi and its Island neighbours. They are the favs of Mama Put and roadside food vendors, because again affordability plays a major role in their eating habits. Their primary focus is to fill the tank (that is their stomach). Their perception of eating is fuelling. So they eat to fill up using all sort of horrendous combinations like Yam, Rice and Beans, all in the same platter. Fufu, Garri and Semo in a mountainous pile with small vegetable soup and one meat!

By the way, as far as Suffer head-choppers are concerned, Starch is the legend. Protein is just waste of money. But just a tip if you are a Suffer-head chopper, protein fills the stomach faster than starch. Try it and don’t bother to thank me.

2. Chop n Die Geng
Normally, humans are supposed to eat so that they can live. But this particular food-personality type LIVE to EAT. Chop n Die Geng personality runs on a spectrum that vacillates between their obsession with food and their underlying greed to just eat, till there is nothing left for others.

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Asking a member of the Chop n Die Geng to come and spend the weekend with you is a terrible mistake, except you own a restaurant or you run a catering outfit. If you don’t own any of these two, your kitchen and fridge are under massive invasion.
If you confront them with the truth of their hoodlum attitude towards food, the usual reply is: “Na food I like to chop, I no kee person.” Hunger can actually kill and Chop n Die Geng don’t realize that they can actually cause famine and kill an entire town.

As a result of this hoodlum attitude towards food, I recommend that Chop n Die people should be placed under security watch because they pose a threat to society’s existence.

3. Food-Shamed Dietician:
This personality-food type is a derivative of Chop n Die Geng. No thanks to the food-shaming tweets of influencers like Aproko Doctor and Dr Oluwafunmilayo, and their army of food-police all over twitter, always launching expletives at people on their food choices. They always have an advice for every food picture. Gosh! Subtlely telling people how to live their lives is one of the under-estimated manipulations of social media.

As a result of this consistent food-shaming, we have some members of the Chop n Die Geng who have repented and embraced the gospel of ‘eating well’, (as if they weren’t before) You see them exhibiting their new diet philosophy in different forms such as: ‘Veggies Only’, ‘Portion and Platter Controller’, ‘Calorie Watchers’ and so on. The real problem with this personality type is that they take their new-found beliefs to another level of becoming food fanatics, food Pharisees and Sadducees, persecuting other people (the obstinate devout of Chop n Die Geng) and not letting them eat in peace.

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4. Janded Palate Oppressors:
If you have never travelled beyond the borders of Nigeria before, I will advise you to avoid the people with this food-personality I want to talk about. Because they will oppress your life and make you feel like a disgrace to your generation. Meanwhile, all the crime you committed is the fact that you have not experienced foreign culinary finesse like frogs’ legs and escargots a la bourguignonne, among other les hors d’oeurve.

Please don’t bite your tongue if you can’t pronounce the above, I am just trying to show you that on the street of Nigerians who have tasted a wide array of foreign cuisines, the oppression is real! You wouldn’t have spent more than 60 secs in their company and they will start throwing all sorts of cuisine jargons at you; knowing fully well that noodles and shredded chicken at a Chinese Restaurant in Ikoyi was your only experience with foreign cuisine. Avoid them if you can, they will do you no good!

This oppression is why some people travel abroad and the first thing they want to do is to start putting everything they can find in European restaurants into their mouth so that they can also be a legitimate member of the Janded Palate. Well, before you embark on this mission, always consider the fact that your stomach may not be so kind to you. In a nustshell, you can’t become a Janded Palate Oppressor by turning yourself into a Chop n Die Geng in another man’s land.

5. Global Food Explorers:
These guys are the best! Like the very best of the food-personality types. Global Food Explorers don’t eat like Chop n Die, neither do they stuff their stomach like Suffer-head. Also, you’ll never catch oppressing people like Janded Palate Oppressors. These are gentlemen and ladies of the food culture who explore their passion for food and enjoy every bit of it. They understand food is meant to nourish the body and delight the soul by sharing these experiences with people of like minds.

As Nigerians, they will eat their local cuisines like proper natives and also eat with decorum when they’re presented with Occident or Orient dishes. These people, although very rare to find, form the core of the audience of my culinary brand. I enjoy putting my skills to use to ensure Global Food Explorers enjoy every bit of their time with their meals. As far as they are concerned, every meal is a story and people who serve them form an inextricable part of beautiful memories they cherish for a long time come.

Regardless of where you belong in the above food-personality types, know that Chef Ree Ekwere is always rooting for you.

Never forget: “You are truly what you eat.”

Chef Ree Ekwere is a private, travel and luxury chef based in Abuja, Nigeria.

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