Home­grown not al­ways a suc­cess

The de­bate rag­ing over ge­net­i­cally mod­i­fied foods is far from over, writes Hen­nie Fisher

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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.

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