According to Kemi Jeje, Malnutrition is the Root Cause of All Chronic Diseases!

Kemi Jeje is the team lead for Whole Eats and Community Pot, two projects she started to help adults and children who are sick or not getting enough food. In this interview with YETUNDE OLADEINDE, she talks about her childhood and how it led her to become a food formulator and help kids who aren’t getting enough food.

What is the initiative all about?

Community Pot is a business that sells healthy foods. We think that medicine should be in food so that people don’t eat medicine like it’s food. We’ve been making meals for more than two years, and we’ve done very well on the market.

What inspired the idea?

It was a mistake that I went on a journey and then had children. But the idea that food can be medicine led me on my path.

Describe your journey

I was very sick as a child. I would just start to sweat for no reason. I also grew up in a white garment church, where they thought I was ogbanje and kept beating me because of it. But that didn’t change anything, and they said things like I was going to go back on the day of my wedding. I got sick once a month, and when I was sick, nobody cared about me.

I couldn’t hang out with my friends because I had to sit down after just a few steps. When I went to high school, it was the first time I went to a public school. When I got home from the first day, it was time to go back to school. My heart started racing. Then I looked across the street and saw a woman selling garlic. I don’t know where the idea came from, but I went to her, bought some garlic, and ate it. It stopped right away, as if by magic.

That was where my journey began. Then I thought that as a baby, I couldn’t always smell like garlic, so I did some research and found out that they sold garlic that didn’t smell. I started taking herbal supplements after that. At one point, I had painful periods, and they did ago and all that for me. As it grew, I took responsibility for that journey. Even while I was married, I had to deal with a lot of health problems, and I got tired of going to the hospital. At one point, some treatments were making my life harder, so I started to look for things and had to get a diploma in herbal medicine.

What did you study before this?

I learned about Chemistry. At first, I wasn’t interested in food, but I did like giving gifts and making brands. I never thought I’d end up here. As I looked for answers, I had to do a lot of juicing at home, drink herbal teas, and do a lot of research on the leaves around me and how they could help me. People kept asking me what was wrong. So, I decided to make those teas and sell them to grocery stores. Everyone knows what lemongrass is good for and how to get it. Also, juicing became too stressful for what I needed at home, so I thought that if I turned it into a business, it would serve me and help me make money.

Here at Whole Eats, we specialise in the organic meal creation. They taste similar to pap, and they’re flavoured with fruit and nuts. They are a single composition that packs a lot of nutritional punch. Close to being perfectly spherical. We also offer herbal teas to our customers.

When we first entered the market, we were told that only sick people take pap for organic foods. You can’t truly appreciate it until you give it a try. People were asking “how can I buy pap at this cheap” after seeing it in stores for a long period. Someone then suggested we produce a version for the kids who are your target audience.

It was during the COVID era that we resumed production for kids, posted about it on Instagram, and made our first sale. The results first pleased her, but she later called to inquire, “What is in the meal, my baby is not using the toilet?” I returned to my team after consulting with food experts and medical professionals. We then added some fruit extracts and sent them back to her, at which point she reported that her metabolism had improved even further.

We still work with many of the first clients we had when we first opened. At the beginning of the year, we conducted a market analysis of those likely to benefit from this product. There is a big demand for our protein meals and our speciality meals. How can we reach them, evaluate their impact, have our partners buy for them, rehabilitate them, and then evaluate their success? And that’s how we found ourselves working with non-profits.

Kemi Jeje Every Chronic Illness is Borne Out of Malnutrition
Kemi Jeje Every Chronic Illness is Borne Out of Malnutrition

Was it easy to get support for it?

No, but we have been out and about meeting with various groups. Initial responses came from individuals, but they were insufficient. We dubbed that effort “Adopt a Child Recovery,” and in just over three weeks, seven kids found forever homes. I was able to meet with Sterling Bank’s MD and show him the video. In that short amount of time, he was convinced, and the couple went on to adopt 188 kids.

Are these children in Lagos or spread all over the country?

We need to keep tabs on them, therefore they’re currently in Lagos for the time being. The need is much greater outside of Lagos, particularly in the North, so we are having these discussions with implementors outside of the city. In this initial stage, we aim to adopt 500 children and collect data that will help us plan for future expansion outside of Lagos. There are still some people who don’t finish high school. We started the month of August with 104 students, and as of yesterday, we were down to roughly 12 due to student withdrawals.

Some kids simply won’t eat anything unless it has milk, and this is one of the causes. And there is still no milk collaboration. Some of the ladies are unstable, so even if you travel to their communities to help them, by the time you go back to compensate them, they may have moved on. Those are the tools we employed to keep an eye on the pilot, and they’ll serve as a framework going forward.

Community Pot is based on the notion that it takes a village to raise a child. Every single one of my neighbours would welcome me into their homes and feed me if I was hungry. Thus, you could be more inclined to make a financial contribution if you imagine the child you are adopting as a youngster from your community. That’s exactly what we’re doing.

Malnutrition is a major issue now that food items are expensive, how are you going to help solve that?

For me, malnutrition is the root cause of any chronic disease. Malnutrition can be caused by either not eating enough or eating too much. Therefore, people frequently have to cope with the type of diabetes that is associated with excessive indulgence, both in terms of blood sugar and cholesterol. Every person has an appetite, and sometimes people give in to them to an unhealthy degree. There are four parts to this: sweet, sour, bitter, and the final. The sweet will throw the body off kilter if consumed in large quantities.

That’s why we’re so concerned about kids with stunted growth and development, why they feed them eba instead of something with all the micronutrients they need, especially for their brains. When you ask a kid to read ABC, he just stares at you. If given the chance, that child could achieve just as much as the one who is already succeeding. Unfortunately, once infants have outgrown the critical period of undernutrition, the damage may be irreversible. There is no way to regress to an earlier stage of growth. And that’s the sort of folks who will make up our neighbourhood. We are not considering the consequences of child malnutrition 20 years from now.

You have talked about the two sides of the coin but there are also several adulterated foods. How do you solve that?

I like to support local businesses wherever possible. Grow your food and start farming; it’s one of the many solutions. Of course, that point has not been reached. However, in my opinion, the risks can be minimised by limiting travel outside of one’s area. Also, bitter foods have been shown to aid with toxin elimination for adults, thus maintaining a healthy diet is important.

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