From Sylvanus Viashima, Jalingo

The consumption of pork in Taraba State, particularly in Jalingo, the state capital, has risen astronomically in recent times, making it the number one choice at drinking joints there, giving the popular suya joints a good challenge.

Until recently, consumption of pork was very unpopular in Jalingo with barely two known spots at Mile Six and Magami, where enthusiasts, mostly the Tiv population, could get the meat. This was due partly to the dirty nature of the animal and the Islamic religious disdain for pork.

However, a sudden interest in pork, especially at drinking places and for domestic use, has risen so drastically recently, creating scarcity and a more than double price hike.

Pork is the culinary name for the meat of a domestic pig and is arguably the most commonly consumed meat worldwide, with evidence of pig husbandry dating back to 5000 BC. It is eaten both freshly cooked and preserved.

Pork is not only the most popular meat in the Western world and in Central Europe, it is also very popular in the Eastern and non-Muslim parts of Southeastern Asia. It is highly prized in Asian cuisines for its fat content and pleasant texture. It is also a household meat in most African countries.

Its myoglobin content is lower than that of beef, but much higher than that of chicken. It is also very high in vitamin B. Pork with its fat trimmed is leaner than the meat of most domesticated animals, but is high in cholesterol and saturated fat. Pork is generally considered as white meat, in the same league with chicken and turkey, and is considered healthier than red meat.

However, pork consumption is prohibited by orthodox Jewish and Islamic dietary laws, and is also avoided by mainstream Seventh Day Adventists, Rastafarians and other sects.

According to Mr. Gabriel Yough, who has a piggery, the surge in the consumption of pork is not only sudden but also very drastic.

“I came to this state around 2010 and by then I only knew of two places where you could get pork. Even at that, there was this unconscious stigma that was attached to the consumption of the meat and so it was mostly the Tiv people that used to patronise the places.

“Of course, this is very typical of most of the northern states, where you have a good Muslim population. I think the restriction by Islam tends to affect even non-Muslims as well, perhaps, unconsciously. Others also feel that pigs are very dirty animals and consider the meat as toxic and all of that. The bottom line is that, it was very unpopular here, until just recently.

“All of a sudden, as if by a certain revelation, we started seeing pork at drinking joints and at street corners and, before you know what is happening, most drinking joints now have special spots where pork is roasted and, in some cases, the conventional suya joints are replaced with pork. The demand for it is so high that some of us saw the opportunity and have gone into the husbandry. As we speak, you have to go as far as Adamawa to buy pigs or some of the very remote villages in Lau, Bali, Gassol and other local governments to get the stocks. They have literally eaten all the pigs in the state in just a matter of two years or thereabouts.”

At popular joints such as Flickerts, Premier, Zenith and others that are patronized by persons across religious and ethnic lines, spots for roasted pork eaten with spiced dry pepper (yaji) abound, while the consumption of the meat is gradually becoming a way of life.

For most of the people, pork is not just a cheaper and more nutritious option, but also offers a better option from the traditional suya and beef products such as cow leg, head, tail, ‘assorted’ and others.

Mr. Joe Hundu is a socialite and a great fan of pork meat. He shares with our correspondent his reasons for choosing pork over other options: “I never liked pork at all. I was irritated by the chunks of fat that usually graced cooked pork. But when I came here, I saw that they don’t just cook it. They first of all fry the meat, spice it with sauce and allow it to roast on fire. So, what you are served is well-prepared pork that even the fat that is left on it adds to the fun of eating.

“The good thing about pork is that it really helps to control the level of intoxication for some of us and, since I started drinking and eating pork, I have never experienced any hangover. So, I think the meat suits my blood very well and it is so delicious that even the worst prepared is still manageable.”

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For Albert Ulegah, “Pork is simply the best meat to eat, especially when you are drinking. The yaji is so nice that it makes you drink more with less harm to yourself, while the taste of the meat is something you still savour several hours after consumption.

“Another thing about pork is that it is relatively cheaper. Even if you guys are up to 10 at a table, N1,000 will serve you all, unlike if you decide to go for pepper soup that is mostly N500 per plate. Another thing is that, since the onslaught of herdsmen on the local people, most of us no longer want to have anything to do with consumption of beef. It is even harmful to the body. So, we would rather go for the better option, which is pork.”

Miss Nguwasen Akaaer sells pork at one of the popular joints in Jalingo. She started selling pork when she realised that most people who came to drink at the joint were looking for other meat sources than beef, and the fresh fish that was mostly the only other option became very scarce and expensive.

“I used to sell pepper soup at the Ate U Tiv joint, around Roadblock before. But I discovered that most people were no longer interested in cow leg, head, tail or kayan ciki. Fresh fish at that time was also very scarce and expensive; so, I decided to try pork. When I started, it was very slow, but soon people were coming from other places just to buy the meat and go with it. It also drew a lot of customers to the joint. But because I needed a more open place, I had to relocate to this place now.

“The truth is that there is market (demand) here a lot. I kill a pig almost every day and, in most cases, there are no leftovers. The only time you have some leftover is when the town is generally very dry. Most of the suya people keep their meat for days because of low patronage but it is not like that with pork. Even people who don’t drink just drive by to buy the meat and take to their families. People even call in advance to book for special parts such as the ears, mouth and intestine.”

The director of Zenith, Mr. Wilfred Ighohia, told our correspondent that pork is simply what keeps his joint going.

According to him, “This place is always crowded mostly because of the people who come here to eat pork. There was a time recently that, for a couple of days, we couldn’t get pigs. I was surprised at how drastically our sales dropped and most of our regular customers left. But then I noticed it and quickly went into the villages where I got more stock and as soon as we started the pork again, the place came back to life. That was when I realised that most of our customers patronised us mostly because of the pork and not necessarily the drinks.

“The problem is that there is so much competition and demand for pigs now that to get them in stock is not an easy task. At times, we go as far as ordering for pigs all the way from Adamawa and incurring high transportation fares. But then it is very profitable and helps the business generally to grow. It attracts customers. What surprises me is that, until quite recently, only very few people could eat pork publicly. It is as if the veil that once blocked their eyes has been removed and they all realise that this is something they should all embrace.

“But I think a lot of people need to invest in having pig husbandries in this town. I remember at some point there was serious scarcity of fresh fish here and a lot of people went into fish farming. Now, we have several fish ponds even though it is still scarce and expensive. The same is needed for pig farming as well, despite the fact that some religious sects abhor it so much and even disdain to see pigs.”

But, as a seasoned pig farmer, Yough is of the opinion that there is no conducive environment for any reasonable investment in the sector. According to Yough, “I have a piece of land where I’m currently running my farm. But then I have to employ security, look for water sources because the state’s water supply is not available, constantly source their feeding, and a whole lot. You also have veterinary attention to contend with.

“Unfortunately, its hard to come by a bank facility to facilitate your operations. So, in the end, the cost of running the farm becomes outrageous. If only the government can take care of some of the issues such as water supply, it will be relatively easier for more people to go into this business.”

Despite the challenges, pork has defied all odds and is making its presence so conspicuous that everyone seems to notice.

For suya sellers, the advent of pork is a nightmare to their business.

According to a suya seller, Aliyu Musa, “Most people now prefer to go and eat alede (pork), instead of suya. This is affecting our business seriously. Before, I used to sell a lot of suya and roasted chicken every day but since this girl came and started selling pork here, I don’t sell much again. Most of my customers don’t even look my side again when they are coming to drink. I don’t know what is so interesting about the meat. I have never tasted it in my life but I think most people love it.”

Perhaps what is most outstanding is how pork has come to dominate the social circles in Taraba within such a short time without even a proper knowledge of its nutritional composition by its consumers and the rate at which it is receiving widespread acceptability and preference.