Chew on This Industrial Material

Sep 10 , 2021
By Kidist Yidnekachew

There is a viral video on TikTok that, at first glance, seems nothing more than a cooking tutorial. But it goes on, and it shows a woman grappling with adulterated sugar spiked with some plastic derivative to cheat the scales.

The woman in the video wanted to melt the sugar to make halwa(a sugary dessert). She kept heating and stirring it, but some parts of the sugar were left unbroken at the edge of the pot. She increased the temperature and left it to melt for longer but nothing happened. When she finally took the pieces and cooled them, she saw they were actually plastic, not sugar.

That was terrible, but there was something about the lady to envy in that she had some sugar. For the past week, I have been to every shop I can find in my neighbourhood looking for sugar. The only ones I could get were from unions that served only people with coupons. Those of us who do not have it have to live at the mercy of friends and relatives that often buy this magical substance for us.

But I was determined to find sugar at a shop as I was getting tired of drinking tea and coffee without sugar. I also realised that I was addicted to sugar, which has no health benefits but a slew of harmful effects on the body.

I finally found a shop that seemed to have some sugar. I stood in a line and in front of me was a man in his 70s who was wearing a worn-out leather jacket. He noticed that I was fidgeting.

“You can go first if you are in a hurry,” he offered.

I said I was not and that I was just wondering if I would get lucky with some sugar here. He nodded his head and said he was also there to buy some of that sweet stuff. He said he heard some shops were selling it without coupons, gauging the price of a kilo of sugar for up to 70 Br.

As we were chatting, the shopkeeper said there was no sugar and that he is also waiting for the kebeleto give him some as well. Disappointed, the man and I took off. As we were heading the same way, we started conversing about the inflation and I shared with him what I came across on TikTok. He was shocked.

“If anybody did that during the Dergueregime, he would have been shot right in front of people. Anybody who saw that not even in their wildest dreams would dare to commit such an act,” he told me. “I am not saying that is the right thing to do, but it sure sent a message. Nowadays, the punishment is some fine which can easily be paid, suspension or revocation of a license or imprisonment for a few months.”

What the Derguemight have done would have been draconian, but neither is the mixing of food with non-edible substances any better. Clay is mixed with berbere(chilly spice) and gypsum and crushed plywood to injera(flatbread). The most moral of the offenders only add cheap rice flour to wheat.

Thanks to technology, some of these misdeeds are being unravelled. I once came across a video where water jars were being filled from a water truck. The water from such trucks is used for plants and for cleaning roads. And yet, he was putting this water inside a jar. The man did not realise that he was secretly filmed. Another time, a lady showed a lollipop she bought from the shop was actually licked but put back in the wrapping paper.

What kind of country are we living in? What are the consumer protection agencies doing?

At the very least, we customers have to stick together, know our rights and stand up for them. We have to expose such despicable acts to make sure these individuals are brought to justice. At the very least, we can share what we encounter for the next person to be aware.

PUBLISHED ON Sep 10,2021 [ VOL 22 , NO 1115]

Kidist Yidnekachew is interested in art, human nature and behaviour. She has studied psychology, journalism and communications and can be reached at (

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