President Idi Amin Dada went to the Buckingham Palace for lunch with Queen Elizabeth of England. After the lavish affair, he stood up to show his gratitude on behalf of his delegation and the people of Uganda. “Her Majesty the Queen. Thank you for your hospitality. I am now thoroughly fed up! When you come to Uganda, I will revenge!”
President Uhuru’s recent witty comeback at Raila Odinga during former politician William Ole Ntimama’s funeral was in the same vein of joke, told at another’s expense.
“Kumeza mate sio kula nyama … sisi ndiyo tumekikalia hiki kiti, kwa hivyo nyinyi mezeni mate na sisi tutakula nyama, hatuna haraka.”
(Lusting over meat is not the same as eating meat…we are occupying the seat, so keep lusting as we eat the meat, we are not in hurry).
Those simple words coated with a thick layer of privilege define the great rift between the disregard of the ruling class and the frustrations of the trodden masses.
In our land of aspiring meat eaters, the remark was bound to be controversial. Eating meat is what upper class aspirations are made of. You can tell one’s class by how they talk about meat. The wealthy talk about meat in degrees of doneness. Rare, medium or well done. The wealthier one gets, the rarer the meat becomes.
The middle class define meat by its colour, red or white. It is all about waist line watching and wine pairing to avoid the embarrassment of bringing the wrong bottle to dinner.
The working classes describe meat by its quantity in kilos. The more meat, the merrier the party.
Eating meat regularly is a sign of social elevation and its conspicuous consumption is the flashy badge of a newly acquired social status. When new money arrives, out goes the vegetables and plain starch. In comes in the fried stuff and salads to mimic the manners of the ‘rich’.
Affording meat for a vast majority of normal folk is a craving that is a strong as tobacco
In every struggling rural homestead, there is a living breathing animal, known as the meat stock, serving as the last bastion between the family and poverty.
Culturally, meat is a symbol of true love and security in marriage. The able man is defined by the number of cows that accompany him as dowry and the steak he continues to bring home after marriage.
Which is why, affording meat for a vast majority of normal folk is a craving that is a strong as tobacco. The ordinary Kenyan remains perturbed by vegetarians who refuse to eat animal flesh as a matter of choice. Kenyans are meat eaters by instinct and they cannot understand why anyone would work their way up the food chain to become a vegetarian.
Meat is one of the only foods that comes with a code of conduct. They are pages of cultural rules that address protocols to be observed during meat eating ceremonies. To stop deprived children from losing their minds at the sight of fried meat, tales of caution were circulated, of the greedy hyena destroyed by gluttony.
Well behaved children were admired for their ability to contain their excitement around meat. They would skirt around the piece of animal flesh on the plate, dispensing with the starch and greens and saving the flesh for the last. After the plate was cleared of distraction, they would be left with the choice piece of meat for the grand finale. This is what summed up good table manners.
In a few years following her prosperity, she would become known as a meat snob
In my little village, a popular story is told of a mother brought to ruin by the love of meat. It is a true story of a humble widow whose son made good. The son had pledged to his mother that she would never be tortured again by the smell of fried meat wafting from a vain neighbours’ compound.
The driven man worked his backside into serious money and decided it was his mothers’ time to eat too. He returned home in glory to flash his wealth, building his mother a lavish house equipped with a modern kitchen and an Utalii trained cook.
The honoured mother ate to her fill but the staple diet of fried meat got exhausting. She regularly took to complaining of animal protein fatigue to those who only ate meat at the funerals of prominent folk. When she visited the humble dwellings of her age-mates during funerals, she turned her nose up to their generosity, saying that the meat was not tenderized and her teeth were not that great.
In a few years following her prosperity, she would become known as a meat snob.
But the good times did not last. The generous son’s fortune turned for the worse as his money ran out. The old lady moved from comfort back to destitution. She would spend her final years blaming her neighbours for bringing her down with their envy and witchcraft.
Like the hyena stories of my childhood, her story remains as a warning against an insatiable appetite and the impermanence of success.
The visceral reaction to President Uhuru’s joke was not about eating meat.
It was about the glorification of privilege and the sanctioned greed of the eating cartels that has left the rest of the country nauseating.