Homegrown not always a success
The debate raging over genetically modified foods is far from over, writes Hennie Fisher
PEOPLE voice strong opinions about genetically modified (GM) food, perhaps not always taking into account how positive advances in this area contribute to the ready availability of food to all on our planet.
On a recent trip to two coastal towns in Kenya, Kilifi and Malindi, what was available for sale differed markedly from what one would expect, being used as we are to a wide range of products grown expressly to be sold in our stores and where both appearance and flavour are determining criteria. The produce available appeared to have come from the yards of people living in the area, which, considering all that we conventionally expect in terms of eating seasonal, organically produced and environmentally friendly foods, should be good. Yet, the paw-paws were the size of small aubergines, bright green outside, and even though ripe inside, had very little flavour. Pineapples were large and gorgeous looking, but pale white inside and watery in taste. Even granadillas, of which there were no less than three varieties to be found in the stalls dotting the pavements, were puckered and had little flavour. Being so close to the equator, other plants seemed to thrive in the hot, humid climate, but the fruits were insipid, to say the least.
Admittedly the season would have something to do with the overall appearance and taste of the fruit, but perhaps one should be less critical of scientific involvement in our food production. Understand that I am by no means saying that GM-foods and selective breeding (or artificial selection) is the same thing. History tells us that the practice of selective breeding dates back to the Romans, some 2,000 years ago, even though it was only established as a scientific practice by Robert Blakewell during the 18th century British Agricultural Revolution. At www.selectivebreed ingofplants.com, the process of modern foods development out of wild plants is explained in great detail. The website demonstrates the differences between the perfect banana that we know today versus its predecessors, which were small, oval fruits with thick, tough skins, riddled with large, hard seeds. Yes, we should all be aware of the dangers of genetic modification of plants around us, for moral, ethical or scientific reasons, but when one visits a place where you would assume fruit and vegetables to be bold and irresistible and they turn out to be anything but, the case for scientific intervention makes more sense.
On the whole, food is a great reason to visit the Kenyan coast. Our resort offered old fashioned breakfast buffets with eggs done in a variety of ways. A hasty offer to make the wedding cake for friends who chose to get married in Kilifi saw me improvising Nigella Lawson’s Clementine Cake in an unfamiliar, ill-equipped kitchen, having to rely on the help of the resort’s kitchen staff. It also meant that I had to use small oranges, which contained a large amount of pips, instead of plump, sweet and intensely orange clementines.
The pastry chef unbelievingly stood by when these were boiled for a couple of hours to be pulverised and mixed with ground almonds, eggs and sugar for one of the best cakes in the world.
Venturing into Kilifi, or its neighbour Malindi, it is easy to find an array of culinary gems.
We were advised, when heading to a local restaurant, to order our food in advance and walk through the town, which made us wonder if the chicken for our curry might have still been running around outside until the order was placed. Small rotis accompanied the curry and, combined with a spectacular view over the lagoon, made for a good lunch.
Malindi, a thriving tourist destination, is filled with quaint little restaurants and coffee bars. Ernest Hemingway also undertook safaris through Kenya and Tanzania on more than one occasion, and there is a little bistro named “The old man and the sea” in Malindi. Due to the Italian influence numerous places offer pizza. On the whole, while the fruit and produce might be better in other seasons, the hospitality and warmth of the people should make for many returns.