Monday, June 20, 2011

Progress: More Power, More Problems

Electricity arrived in Loopeng shortly after the end of apartheid. Prior to the arrival of electricity people relied on paraffin or wood fires for cooking, and the well-off had a generator to power their televisions and a few lightbulbs. Power lines, which extended to every home, shanty, mansion or shack, were a great equalizer. Suddenly, everyone was able to cook on a stove, flip a lightswitch and watch the soapies. Life was much improved.

Or was it?

An older Loopeng resident explained to me, during the journey home from town, how much life had worsened in the village since the arrival of electricity. Back in the day, residents relied on local ingredients in their cooking. Meat was prized, and rare. Everyone kept a garden, and grew what little they could. Vegetables were a large part of the local diet. Sure, not everyone got enough to eat, but those that did ate a healthy, balanced diet. All of that came to an end when the power lines introduced their good pal, the freezer.

Gone are the vegetable gardens. Hello, giant bags of frozen chicken! Those who can afford meat now buy it in massive quantities becaue they are able to keep it frozen at home. The local diet has shifted to one of maize for the poor, meat for the rich and vegetables for no one. Naturally, this has caused health problems, but no one seems eager to throw out their freezers and start killing their own chickens again every time they want a bit of meat.

Additionally, as Loopeng has transitioned from a complete, apartheid-era hellhole to a mere, moderately uncomfortable pit of despair, it has attracted shopkeepers. The shopkeepers in Loopeng don't sell expensive organic kale, no, they sell soft drinks, chips and sweets. Basically, everything they sell has as little nutritional value as possible, but the people gladly spend their pension money at these shops. Fat cakes may be terrible for your arteries, but they are filling and, most importantly, cheap. Similar to more developed countries, South Africa's poor generally do not eat properly and this trend has been aided, not abetted, by "progress". So much for "development".

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