Listeriosis; best thing to happen to SA!

Listeriosis; best thing to happen to SA!

Let me start off by apologizing for the glib click bait title of this blog. Let me apologize to the 180 families who lost a loved one to this preventable bacteria. 78 of the 180 fatalities are children. In most countries, this would be a national disaster and a day of mourning would be held. Heads would roll. For South Africa this just seems to be another mass death of innocent people. 144 mentally ill patients died last year at the Life Esidieni tragedy. But in just number of months we have already bested that death toll.

Whilst the title of this blog is sensationalist, it is however true. The Esidimeni tragedy as shocking as it was, on so many levels, I do believe was ultimately good for the country. At the very least it showed that complacency and incompetence can literally kill. It also showed that you can run but cannot hide from a death toll. This I believe, was one of the reasons for a relatively speedy response, by the department of health on Listeriosis crisis. So perhaps it is because of the Life Esidimeni tragedy that more deaths have been prevented in the Listeriosis outbreak.

If I am to follow that same logic, why is Listeriosis good for the country? What future deaths is Listeriosis going to limit? Let me illustrate;

I grew up eSoweto. A big staple in my diet growing up, was processed food. My favorite fast food was iKota. It was a dream. Having all the junk food I loved in one meal! IKota, named after a hollowed quarter loaf of bread stuffed withChips, Russian, Polony, cheese and archer. Basically, iKota was eating all the items that could clog my arteries in one sitting. Luckily for me I was young then and didn’t even know what arteries were. IKota is a staple in the townships, it is both fast food in terms of convenience but it is also relatively cheap and filling. I remember my friends and I would wash the Kota down with a 2 litre Fanta Orange.

Some of us still do this every chance we get when we go back to the township, we buy Kotas and re live the nostalgia of youth. The problem is that we are no longer young. Ignorance is no longer a defense, worse our bodies and arteries will no longer take this abuse. Most of my male friends look 3 months pregnant.

“The total market for cheese slices are around R1 billion a year. So if you look at one cheese slice per kota, you can very simply assume an average price of R10 per kota. That’s just the kota industry. — GG Alcock, Author of Kasinomics. That’s just processed cheese! You can extrapolate as to how big the processed meat consumption is in the township. Added to that is the Polony sandwiches that get packed in kids school lunch boxes.

So we can agree that processed food is prevalent in the townships. But so what?! We have known this for many years! Right, but did you know; according to the World Health Organization, processed foods are to blame for the spike in obesity levels and chronic disease around the world. Many processed foods have trans fatty acids (TFA), the dangerous type of fat you don’t want in your diet. A study, conducted by a team in France and Brazil, suggests that ultra-processed foods carry an extra risk of cancer, above and beyond being nutritionally bad for you. “Ultra-processed food intake is associated with higher overall cancer risk,” the team wrote in their report, published in the British Medical Journal’s online publication The BMJ. If you knew the list of industrial items that come from pigs; such as soap, bone China, glycerin for explosives and antifreeze, matches and industrial lubricants, you would then understand that eating highly processed pork products is probably not a good thing. Not all of the pig is bad, it’s just the highly processed parts.

I don’t know about you but I always kinda known that Junk food is not good for you, but’s it’s always been like, well…too much of a good anything is never good. But I certainly didn’t know that most of this processed food was actually poisoning my body! Dramatic I know, but it is true. When I look in my family, my grandfather died of cancer; my two aunts died of cancer, my uncle….cancer, my mother’s husband cancer, my best friend and colleague cancer! When I was growing up cancer was like a white peoples disease. I now know more black people who have died of cancer than I know people who have died of aids. Worst part these people are young!

The second part of this travesty is the communicable diseases such as diabetes that is brought on by the obesity of eating these highly processed food products. According to the South African Department of Health statistics ; Obesity rates in South Africa are increasing rapidly, with almost 70% of women and 40% of men either overweight or obese. Furthermore, reports show one in four girls and one in five boys between the ages of 2 and 14 years are overweight or obese while obesity -related diseases such as heart diseases, type 2 diabetes, stroke and some cancers account for 43% of deaths in South Africa. Obesity is one of the top five risk factors for early death. Added to this is that processed food almost always has no nutritional value. So you will be full and be malnourished at the same time. In fact South Africa has the perverse problem of obesity and malnourishment in the same people!

I have noticed a trend of late, of glamorizing obesity. It may have started with the word bootylicious, then I think it moved to “curvey” and now it is the word “thick”. The purpose of this blog is not to body shame it is instead to speak about health. Fact of the matter is, many people have genuine issues when it comes to weight, especially women. Owning some of the above mentioned words has done immeasurable good to many people who had been traditionally discriminated against because genetically their body’s didn’t “conform” to whatever societal “norms”. This conversation is not about that. This is conversation is about the fact that, no matter what your body type is; the BMI index does not discriminate with regards to the measurement of obesity. In other words, despite our respective body types we should all be striving to be a healthier version of ourselves, as opposed to glamorizing weight gain. I worry that when we glamorize weight gain with words like “thick” we start doing untold and irreversible damage to kids and teenagers who are very impressionable at that age. The above mentioned Department of Health statistics are already pointing to this. The rest of Africa and South Africa have a population that is very young. This means that if the obesity rates remain unchecked, Africa’s future population will also be very ill from commutable diseases. Ill people people cannot work. You can’t tax people who do not work. If African governments can’t generate income from taxes they then in turn can’t pay for health care services. No state funded healthcare means high death rates. High adult death rates means child headed house holds. The cycle of poverty continues.

As a Chef I have found that people are intimidated by food, especially cooking food. I was like that too before I became a Chef. It was easier to outsource food to fast food restaurants. But when I learnt to cook I started taking my power back. Knowing how to cook opens up a whole world and food becomes something you appreciate and love. Once you love something it becomes less intimidating and more a passion. You don’t have to be a Chef to learn to cook. Eating is something you do three times a day, it is perhaps wise to learn how or even what you put in your mouth. If it’s not Listeriosis that’s going to kill you, you have an almost 50% chance that food is going to kill you anyways. Ironically, food was meant to be the nourishment that is meant to keep us alive but we have now managed to make it the thing that is now likely to kill us as well.


Start eating healthier, even if it means you just stop eating processed food. Continue to treat all processed food with the same fear of Listeriosis.

Drink non sugary drinks. We are currently in the top 10 countries who drink the most sugary drinks in the world.

Start adding less or no sugar in your coffee or tea.

Drink water.

Start caring about how your food is prepared.

Teach our children about food early! Teach them how to prepare food!


  • Motseki Majake
    Posted at 06:02h, 30 March Reply

    Thanks for the great article. I grew up eating kota mainly during school lunch breaks.

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