Over half the population has unhealthy levels of body fat. At Johannesburg’s three busiest taxi ranks, energy drinks, chips, pap and meat are the most popular morning purchases. But what influences these choices? Cost? Taste? Accessibility? Health-e News’s AMY GREEN and THABO MOLELEKWA try to find answers.
It’s eight in the morning and Bree Street taxi rank in Johannesburg is buzzing with activity. People hurrying to work only stop for a moment to buy food from the dozens of vendors lining the walls of the dark rank.
Every morning Ishmael Kroos arrives at Bree taxi rank at five to start his shift. The 21-year-old Malawian-born man works for 13 hours at his station: a stall inside the dark rank where he sells fried chips, crisps, sweets, vetkoek, scones and some fruit. This morning a handful of people crowd in front of his stall, attracted by the strong smell of vinegar and the sound of frying chips.
“Everyday I buy chips here, they taste mnandi [nice],” said Constance Sibiya as she waits for her R7 meal. A double portion of chips costs R15. As she pours salt into the square polystyrene container, she said that, along with being tasty, the chips are “affordable” and filling.
Looking at the fruit arranged in front of Kroos’ sweets and crisps she said that “I don’t ever buy that”. Kroos also sells bananas (R2.50 each), apples (R3), peaches (R4) and plums (R2).
Half an hour later, there’s a lull in customers and Kroos sits on a stool and begins to peel potatoes at a record pace, throwing the peels into a cardboard box lying on the ground next to him.
“Most people buy the chips. Some buy fruit, but they don’t buy both,” he said.
Constance Sibirya has chips for breakfast every morning from Bree taxi rank because she likes the taste and they are filling. (Credit: Kim Harrisberg)
South Africans love salt, according to registered dietitian Megan Lee from the Heart and Stroke Foundation. “On average, the current salt intake levels in South Africa range from six to 11g of salt per day, reaching more than double the global recommended limit of 5g,” she said.
While eating fried chips once in a while poses little health risk, consuming them daily, especially with a significant amount of added salt raises the risk of developing high blood pressure.
Almost half of all South Africans over the age of 15 have high blood pressure, according to the 2016 Demographic and Health Survey. This is the leading risk factor for heart disease – the world’s number one cause of death.
But many people choose fried chips as a breakfast option based on cost, taste, the fact that they are filling and easy to eat on-the-go, fitting in with commuters’ long days in the country’s most populous city.
Next door to Kroos’ stall, Nokuthula Ndala sits behind her display of sweets and crisps. She has been selling snacks at Bree for about 10 years and said she pays R60 a month to rent the space. An almost-empty bucket with melting ice stands in front of her stall; a few soft drinks and energy drinks swim in the cold water.
“More people buy energy drinks than other things, especially taxi drivers,” said the elderly woman, originally from KwaZulu-Natal. The drinks are cheap: one 440ml can is just R10 and most of the vendors in the rank sell a variety of different brands for the same price. Bottled water is scarce and only sold by a handful of the vendors here. Patrick Maseko has been driving taxis for over 20 years and said he can’t do his job without energy drinks. (Credit: Kim Harrisberg)