Hey guys, everything is well in Togo. Here's a little one-letter blog post to keep the pate boiling and let the rest of the 26-letter alphabet come in nice little 5 letter bundles, just like before.
P: La Pate
Pate is the white bread of Togo. It translates to “the paste” in English, which gives you a pretty good idea of what we’re dealing with here. It consists of corn flour, boiled and whipped until it forms a big semi-solid ball. Pieces of pate are torn off with the hands and rolled into smaller balls, which are dipped in sauces, usually made with okra, oil, or leaves like baobab. Pate is eaten almost every day by most people here. It’s cheap, filling, and can give a semblance of variety when paired with different sauces. Unfortunately, it doesn’t offer much in the way of nutrition. Eating a dish that’s pretty much straight carbs with little protein, and few vitamins or minerals, contributes to the malnutrition one sees throughout Togo. I find it strange that corn has taken such a huge role in nutrition here. Corn isn’t from Africa, it’s from America, and none of the traditional processing and pairing that makes it an effective staple in Mexico, for instance, is done here. In order to make hominy, grits, or dough for tortillas, corn is first cooked with an alkaline substance, like wood ash, to change its chemical structure, make more nutrients available, and improve its flavor. The process is called nixtamalization. Nixtamalized corn, combined with beans, gives you a complete protein, and a reasonably balanced diet to build around. Populations that eat large amounts of unprocessed corn are at risk for deficiency diseases, most specifically pellagra, which is a lack of niacin, a nutrient made available in corn only by processing in this way. Pellegra’s symptoms include diarrhea, skin problems, mental problems from irritability to dementia, and edema. One sees these problems all the time in Togo. There was an epidemic of pellagra in the US American South in the early 1900’s, but we figured out that if we want to eat nothing but corn, which apparently, we do, we need to process it and add necessary vitamins and minerals to it. I don’t know for sure that eating tons of la pate is causing pellagra in Togo. There are way too many way too complicated problems related to nutrition here for me to know that for sure. But I’m pretty sure la pate isn’t helping things, and given how easy it is, traditional nixtamalization seems like kind of a no-brainer here.