Last month I took a solemn oath (by way of signing up to The Body Coach website) to get fit. The girls had just turned one, and my ‘baby weight’ excuse wasn’t rolling off the tongue quite so easily… there comes a time.
The new regime demands a 25 minute workout 5 times a week; easy. And easing up on the carbs in favour of a daily glut of green vegetables; not so easy. Finding green vegetables in Dakar right now is akin to coming across an Uber driver that actually knows the way. Yes, it’s THAT difficult.
In the UK there is very little one can’t source all year round. A plethora of fresh produce hits the shelves every single day, much of it with enough airmiles to rival your own. When our own asparagus season dries up, we import from Peru. Tomatoes are stocked on shelves from January to December. And strawberries can now be home grown in the depth of winter, with LED lights tricking the plants into thinking it’s spring.
Not so here. When mango season ends in Senegal, it actually ends. You don’t suddenly find indian mangoes flooding the streets. You just don’t find mangoes, at all. And like the circle of life, you have to wait until the season comes around again. The same goes for a wide spectrum of other produce such as lemons, strawberries, watermelon, cauliflower, spinach, kale, asparagus etc.
“I’d like some spinach please…”
“I’m afraid that’s no longer in season madam.”
“Can’t you fly some in?”
Imagine if Waitrose told you lemons are off the menu for a few months until the season returns. What would all the London detoxers do? No hot water and lemon to wake up the old digestive system… Instagram feeds would be in uproar.
Whereas in the UK only 20 percent of the fruit and veg we buy is homegrown, the reverse can be said of Senegal. Here we use what we have and wait our turn. And I’m not sure who has it right. Is it better to have indefinite access to everything, regardless of quality and flavour? Or rely on your local market and relish in mango month?
Another hard-to-come-by item is fresh milk. Which seems bizarre in a country so heavy on cattle. And while 4 million people (30% of Senegal’s population) are herders, almost all the milk consumed here is mixed from powder. Freshly pasturised milk is a special-order product in Dakar. Why? Because in Europe producers have access to huge sterile plants, ensuring your cornflakes come without a side of Listeria-inducing micro-organisms. In Senegal pasteurization is still a cottage industry. Milk is collected at 6am from 300 herding families across the country, by a single supplier. It has to be back at the milk factory before the sun gets too hot and the milk turns sour. Once it has been processed, the milk is delivered to your door once a week in reusable glass bottles, which are collected by the delivery boy at the next drop off. Old school. And also hugely admirable.
For the reasons outlined above, my diet is now under considerable threat. But this midlife gap year has once again opened my eyes to the challenges of a developing country. Not to mention the lengths people are going to, to overcome them.
That’s not to say we have it right in the UK either; one theory is that British producers and supermarkets are eroding our ability to enjoy food that grows naturally in different months of the year. And by doing so helping to kill off home grown produce and the local supply chain.
I am stuck between both camps of thought. On a recent trip home, the sight of an Ocado truck almost made me weep. But if I was forced to choose one fruit to enjoy for the rest of my life, it would be Senegalese mangoes. I know they’ll be worth the wait.