Hustlers, economics of supermarket food and ugali’s golden age

Our supermarkets are doing brisk business selling cooked food. They’re giving hotels and restaurants a run for their money. It was an ingenious idea, and most supermarkets now have a section where you can sit and enjoy your meal.

The popularity of cooked food is driven by the time value of money (and maybe some laziness). I used to think it was more about the time value of money, with young men and women preferring to buy food and use the time they’d have otherwise used cooking to do something more productive.

Why should an engineer waste time cooking instead of designing the next electric car? Why should a medical doctor cook instead of performing surgery? Any economist will agree it makes perfect sense because such professionals have a comparative advantage in their work.

The economic argument made sense to me until I found a woman buying cooked ugali, of all foods. That’s when I realised it’s about more than comparative advantage.

Maybe even hustlers have no time. Ugali is a national dish, and I guess one of the easiest to cook – if you can’t cook ugali, what can you cook?

Culturally, one should learn to cook at least the simplest meal. Your gender doesn’t matter. There is something sentimental about cooking a meal that you miss out on when you buy food, no matter how much time it saves you.

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Cool kids

It seems not cooking is cool among youngsters. Supermarkets and fast food joints are taking advantage of this. My concern could be emanating from some old-fashioned idea that avoiding simple tasks like cooking means you can avoid bigger responsibilities.

Outsourcing meals goes beyond youngsters – it’s fashionable to outsource meals during family functions. Outside catering is a sign of modernity, even for the simplest of functions, including welcoming your in-laws.

Outsourcing ugali shows that even hustlers have not been left behind – it’s debatable if they buy ugali because they have no time or because it’s cool. Surely, even ugali na maziwa mala?

We could argue ugali is enjoying its golden age – even Java now serves ugali! Such simple acts, like buying ugali just like we buy burgers or chips, show that our economy is being transformed silently at the micro level. There is more specialisation. Even digging graves has its specialists. Even wombs can be rented through surrogate motherhood .

In the long run, this could make our economy more efficient and create more jobs for both hustlers and non-hustlers. Who used to hear of event managers? But we shall miss the joy of doing simple tasks for ourselves, like cooking; they spice up our lives.

Paradoxically, we’re outsourcing cooking as our kitchens become bigger, with modern gadgets from dishwashers to ovens; just as we’re building studies while our dislike for reading is on the rise.[XN Iraki; [email protected]]

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