The fish of the Kalahari return…to stay.

Credit: thefreedictionary.com

Credit: thefreedictionary.com

“No thanks.” Vetfaan waves the bowl of biltong away with a dismissive hand. “I’ve become vegetarian.”

This – quite naturally – causes a shocked silence. Vetfaan, burly sheep farmer and true Afrikaner, refusing biltong? And, even more astounding, becoming a vegetarian? He of the huge apetite, who’d consume several T-bones in a single sitting, now wants to live on cabbage and potatoes? No, that can’t be.

“You not feeling well? Any mosquitoes bitten you lately? Been to West Africa or something?” Kleinpiet just can’t wrap his head around this one.

413928_121026123658_DSC_0129“No, Kleinpiet. I just think it’s wrong to consume animals. I mean, what did they do to us? And yet we go about killing them so that we can have dinner. I read up about it, you know? There are millions of people all over the world who live to ripe old age with a plant-based diet.” To emphasise his point, he grabs a handful of peanuts from the old Voortrekker Monument bowl on the counter. “Live in harmony, I say. Live and let live.”

Gertruida goes harrumph! and orders another beer. “No animal products, Vetfaan? None at all?”

“None. My sheep and my chickens are safe.”

“Let me tell you about the Kalahari, then you think again.” The light in her eyes should have warned Vetfaan. There’ll be a lecture…and a lesson.

***

Ages ago, the Kalahari used to be a large lake – fed by the Chobe, Zambezi and Okavango rivers.

“This was where cichlids evolved – you know the ancestors of today’s Tilapia? Incidentally, the Scottish Zoologist Andrew Smith latinised the Tswana word for ‘fish’ – thlape – to name the genus Tilapia in 1840

Tilapia“Well, to cut a long story short, the earth’s crust moved and the lake drained. Rivers altered their flow, causing – amongst many other things – the Victoria Falls.The fishes of that great lake now started spreading to other parts of Africa. In later years, Lake Victoria held a large population of the species.

UGANDA-NILE-PERCH-WORLD-ENVIRONMENTAL-DAY“Then, along came the British, who introduced Nile Perch to the lake in the middle of the last century. The large fish was to become a major source of protein and income for the fishermen and local population – but they also posed a great threat to the Tilapia. The poor little fish had survived movements in the earths crust, millions of year of hardship, and now face near-extinction due to man’s manipulation of its environment.

“But let’s get back to the Nile Perch, which is the point of the story.”

The Lake Victoria perch is known for it’s huge fish bladder, also called a fish maw. Initially this organ was simply thrown away when the fish was gutted, but later developed a market (where else?) in the East as a delicacy.

“Then people realised how effective these bladders were in the clarification process while making beer and wine. It’s an important component in the fining process, where impurities are removed and wine and beer is allowed to ‘settle’ – which is why you can see me through your glass. They didn’t say they were using fish bladders, of course – they called it isinglass. However, the fact remains – many beers and wines you drink, are made using the once thrown-away humble fish organ of years gone by.

“So you can call yourself a vegetarian if you like, Vetfaan, but you’ll have to give up beer and wine…they contain the residue of those poor fishes.”

***

This is so typical of Gertruida. She’ll take something that started in the Kalahari many aeons ago, weave it into the present, and leave you thinking. And she’s clever about it too, for she allows you to draw your own conclusions. In this instance, she didn’t tell Vetfaan that the ‘bladder’ under discussion, was and air bladder, used to control the depth of swimming. That would have spoilt the effect. Nor did she say that the isinglass was removed when bottling the beverage. No, she sat there, telling her story and watching Vetfaan go green about the gills with the nonchalance of somebody explaining the use of corn in flour.

Gertruida then sat back, considering the mental odds of Vetfaan finishing his beer. It was an interesting study in the psychology of survival. Once colour had returned to the farmer’s face, he pushed his beer aside with a determined look. Then Servaas arrived, hot and sweaty after driving from Upington with Boggel’s beer supply for the week.

***

“Hey Boggel! Gimme a beer man. A cold one. It’s scorching out there.” Servaas sits down with a sigh, rubbing his hands together in anticipation. When Boggel slides the bottle over the counter, he takes a long, lingering sip before smacking his lips.

“Vetfaan?” He stares in horror at the glass of water in front of the new vegetarian. “Bumped your head? You know how unhealthy that stuff is? Your body excretes the stuff, man! It makes things rust. If you inhale it, you die. And it causes more burns to the skin than petrol does, especially in its gaseous form. It carries parasites, chemicals and bacteria that can kill you. It causes short-circuits in electrical systems.  It’s the most polluted substance in the world. And…” here he holds up a triumphant finger, “…they use aluminium salts when purifying water. That, my friend has been linked to Alzheimer’s disease.”

Gertruida nods. With Servaas’s point adequately made, she doesn’t elaborate on the dangers of fluoride or the leaking of Bisphenol A, or BPA, from plastic into bottled water.  

“You mean…water is bad for me?”

“Of course! Beer contains minerals and vitamins. That’s good. It is an antioxidant, increases bone density, and enhances creativity. Water can’t do that.” Gertruida winks at Servaas, who is enjoying Vetfaan’s discomfort with a huge smile.

“And you know what the French say about wine and heart disease…” Kleinpiet chips in with his two cents worth.

“And I believe beer makes you more virile. After a few, I even think Gertruida is sexy.” Servaas earns a friendly slap for the woman who knows he’s only joking.

Poor Vetfaan. No beer? No meat? No wine? And…no water? Sometimes the choices we face simply defy logical thought…

***

Today you won’t find Talapia in the Kalahari. But maybe a little bit of fish can be found in Boggel’s Place, in the glasses and bottles in front of the group in Boggel’s Place. Vetfaan is no longer a complete vegetarian – water is out and drinking beer, he found, is impossible without chewing a piece of biltong. He maintains he believes he started a new form of vegetarianism, Vegetable Enhanced Local Cow Residue Offcuts. He hopes it sticks. As far as he’s concerned, the biltong in the bowl started off as grass, and that’s good enough.

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