BY VICTORIA N. IKEANO
I cannot tell precisely when it became such a regular presence on our menu list but I am aware that years ago ‘kpomo’ or ‘kanda’ (depending on the part of the country you find yourself) was virtually anonymous on our food tables. The world over, beef, fish and chicken are the known additions to a meal. Breakfast foods like bean cakes (akara balls), custard or akamu, bread and tea are not considered to be proper meals in the Nigerian environment. Of course no meal is seemingly complete without the additional meat, fish or chicken that goes with it. However, quite apart from the aforementioned three, Nigerians have a variety of others to choose from especially in an average Nigerian restaurant. They are, ‘roundabout’, ‘towel’, kpomo.
Those from overseas may not understand these because they are peculiar to Nigerian consumers. Roundabout is an English word alright but it is not what the dictionary says it is in the Nigerian sense. In our own food vocabulary, it refers to the intestines; ditto ‘towel’. They are both varieties of cow meat, including kpomo. The latter is peculiarly Nigerian because of its indigenous nomenclature. Kpomo (ponmo) is in fact a Yoruba word and in some other parts of the country it is called kanda which is pidgin. Cow-hide (hide and skin) is its English equivalent, that is, the skin of a cow that has been processed. I guess that in advanced countries those parts of a cow as its intestines, its skin and that which we call ‘towel’, are done away with and not cooked for consumption. Not so in Nigeria. Every single part of a cow is relished and never thrown away as such. From its head which can be pierced into pieces for a delicious cow head pepper soup or ‘ngwo-ngwo’, through its blood itself which is also cooked and served as a kind of snack, to the intestines and skin, every part of it is meat to us.
Apparently kpomo first became popular in the South-West and then as the years rolled by its popularity spread to other nooks and crannies of the country and with it came its other famous name, kanda. Today, kpomo/ kanda is eaten with gusto all over our country, cutting across all ages. It comes in handy because of its relative cheapness in comparison to chicken, fish and meat. Even in northern Nigeria where beef was relatively cheap, beef is now getting costlier for reasons which may not be unconnected to the rise of insurgent activities cum internecine conflicts ravaging the region in recent years. Thus, for many a household, chicken, fish and beef are priced out of their reach. And then kpomo/kanda steps in as a welcome alternative. One must state that there are quite a number of people who find ponmo quite delicious.
Still, there is a third category of persons who are pandering to kpomo for health reasons. Their numbers are increasing also and they are in the middle class and upper echelons of the social ladder. With explosion in information due to the World Wide Web, Nigerians are becoming increasingly conscious about keeping fit, keeping their shape and keeping at bay those diseases that accompany modern-day lifestyles. Red meat is fingered as a culprit here. kpomo/kanda has no nutritional value and that is its attraction for many. They prefer it to meat.
But alas, one man’s meat is another man’s poison so to speak. As the popularity of kpomo/kanda rises exponentially and its consumption jumps in leaps and bounds, it is impacting negatively on one industry – tannery. Kpomo/kanda, that is, cow-hide, is raw material for the tannery industry, more popularly known as leather industry. I need not reel out the plethora of products that are made from leather, you know them and their list is long. Most of the tannery firms are in the north. This is in line with the economic principle of having industries located close to their sources of raw materials to make for economics of scale in production. Nonetheless, instead of transporting the cow hides, hide and skin, to the factories to be processed into numerous leather products, they are hauled to the markets where they are rather, processed into kpomo/kanda for consumption.
And the tannery industry is now crying out over the danger this fast growing culinary habit poses to their industry and its concomitant multiplier effects. As a matter of fact many of them have been shut down due to inadequate supply of raw materials (hides and skin) because they are now being eaten up as ponmo/ kanda. This has led to them calling for a ban on the consumption of hides and skin a.k.a. kpomo. Is this feasible, how do we strike a balance between the two competing needs? To eat or not to eat ponmo/kanda, that is the great debate.
kpomo sellers may argue that they are meeting the needs of majority of Nigerians who simply cannot afford beef, fish and chicken; they may also postulate that they are also meeting the culinary needs of those that find kpomo delicious and want to spice up their meal with it; they could push further to say they are meeting the desires of those who are not vegetarians but nevertheless, want to avoid the health hazards associated with red meat by embracing kpomo/kanda instead.
On the other hand the tannery industry would argue that in denying them their raw material, sellers and consumers of ponmo/kanda are denying thousands of Nigerians of direly needed employment to enable them stand on their feet. Which side of the argument do you stand?