Amina, the waakye seller by the gutter has been plying her trade for quite a long time now.
She took over from her mother who also took over from her mother.
She has maintained the large clientele of her mother and added a lot more as a result of innovations she has introduced such as packaging.
Now customers can have waakye packed as take-away with spicy sauce or mildly hot sauce. Her cousin Adiza also controls the koko market and the evening fufu and tuo zafi is for Asana, her step sister.
Their customers range from tie wearing executives to trotro drivers and shoe shine boys.
Fast service and the ability to make specific requests and choices appear to be the reasons for such a large market.
For instance, you can ask for specific parts of the meat and more or less of something to be added like gari or salad.
It is not a one size fits all market. Very loyal customers could enjoy credit on a bad day and pay up on a good day. Some customers don’t even need to talk, the vendor knows his or her preference in advance.
The trio, like many others in the culinary industry, are serving a very critical need in our society; providing nourishment for many people irrespective of age or sex.
Growing up, we primarily ate from home and seldom ate from outside.
Even corn dough was made at home.
We will soak the corn and go to the corn mill to turn it into dough.
Now the lack of time and convenience have compelled most people to resort to eating from the streets.
For instance, it would be almost impossible for a trotro driver who leaves home at dawn to have breakfast or lunch since he gets home around mid-night.
In terms of economics, it may be cheaper to feed outside since for example GH¢2 can buy koko and bread or gari and beans. Not forgetting that cooking requires some amount of time, from going to the market, making fire, grinding the ingredients etc. Then is the boring aspect of cleaning up after the meals.
At the chop bar, one is spared all these.
Many women, being aware of this, have joined the business. All they need to be accepted as a good waakye or koko seller is to wear the maayaafi to show that they are an Alhaji’s wife and they are in business.
Though the industry is providing employment for many women since the initial capital required is minimum, there are some critical issues we need to address.
It is common knowledge that in order to maximise profit, some food vendors buy unwholesome ingredients such as rotten tomatoes to prepare their meals, use unhealthy food condiments and colour.
Then also is the environment in which the meals are prepared.
Some of these foods we so enjoy come from the squatters villa with no toilet facilities, potable water etc.
All we see are the well-polished sauce pans with food by the road side. On a daily basis, we see new food vendors join the fray, with no checks on their health status.
Diseases such as Hepatitis and typhoid fever are easily transmitted through feeding from outside .
Though by regulation food vendors are to be screened, this doesn’t seem to be done effectively.
This is because they are many and widely spread and some of them operate at irregular hours. For instance, “check- check” and ‘’indomie’’ meals are sold at night.
How do we reconcile this state of affairs in our food vending business with our efforts to promote a healthy society?
If we want to promote the health of our people, then this critical requirement must be met without compromise since treatment is always more expensive and sometimes diseases such as cholera and food poisoning result in death.
Whereas good food, hygienically prepared and sold in a hygienic environment will reduce our health burden, so also will food prepared in a filthy environment and by sellers carrying all manner of diseases affect us adversely.
That is why health screening in the food vending business must not be taken for granted.
The writer is the Features Editor of the Daily Graphic.