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September 20, 2013

Health Risks Fail to Deter Ethiopians from Eating Raw Meat

by Marthe van der Wolf

Ethiopians continue to eat raw meat at family and festive occasions despite health risks that include exposure to tapeworms, salmonella and E-coli.

While most people are taught that eating raw meat is not good for you, the tradition persists in Ethiopia.  Whenever there is something to celebrate -- like a wedding, or the end of one of the many fasting weeks for the large Orthodox community -- raw meat is eaten in large quantities.
 
The story goes that eating raw meat started during times of war.  Fighters hiding in the mountains would have exposed themselves by making fire, and so ate their meat raw.
 
Temesgen Yilma is the owner of Yilma Restaurant, one of the most famous raw meat restaurants in Addis Ababa.  He eats raw meat almost every day and claims that neither he nor his customers have gotten sick from eating it.
 
“Today we are the only butchery in the country having our own animal transport trucks and meat transport vehicle," noted Yilma.  "And our meat is always inspected by the ministry of agriculture, it’s free of any tape worm or any other thing.  It’s always inspected and its always healthy.”

The meat is delivered late at night or early in the morning to one of the hundreds of raw meat establishments in the city.  The delivery time is important, to ensure the freshness of the meat and thus to prevent customers from falling ill.
 
But despite these precautions, eating raw meat still poses the risk of several types of infections.  Akaze Teame is the medical director at the American Medical Center.  He said that eating raw meat is not recommended.

“You will also be at risk of non-communicable diseases such as stroke and heart disease because as you’ve witnessed, most people when they consume raw meat they actually like it white, with a lot of fat on it," Teame explained. "So that puts the person at a much increased risk for heart disease and stroke as well.”

Whatever the health risks, for many Ethiopians raw meat remains one of the most popular dishes.  And to prevent tapeworms, the most common and well-known consequence of eating raw meat, any meat lover can just walk to the pharmacy and buy pills without a prescription.