"Bif, it's what's for dinner"

I looked down at the day's lunch: a heaping pile of rice, covered with a healthy dollop of green slime. To the untrained eye, it was identical to the lunch that had been served the previous three days. But this was cassava leaf, which is 100% distinct from kren-kren, bita-leaf, potato-leaf, green, and a half-dozen other leafy green vegetables that are routinely shredded and added to palm oil to form the lion's share of Sierra Leone's staple dishes.

"Cassava leaf and what?", I would ask in those days, I still believed this to be a valid question. And in those days, when given the reply 'Beef', I presumed I had gotten to the bottom of the mystery. But when, shortly thereafter, I found myself picking tiny fish bones from my teeth, I was left to surmise that there might be something more to the story.

As far as I can tell, Sierra Leone doesn't have any cattle. Well into week 3, I have yet to see a live cow, and have yet to conclusively declare a given chunk of meat as originating from one. Most plasas (the general name for the rice-topping slime) seem to include at least three different species of animal - and quite often, you'll uncover a jaw bone, or appendage, or flap of skin that belongs to nothing you can identify.

At some point in the evolution of the Krio language, the word 'beef' ceased to refer to a single type of meat, and came to refer to all manner and state of animal. The stray cat that begs for your table scraps is considered beef, the birds chirping overhead are called beef, the monkey chained to your neighbor's tree is labeled beef, and when all three of these are sauteed and added to chopped greens, and laid atop a bed of rice, they are collectively referred to as beef. While the English colonists drew lines between different animals, and even different cuts from the same animal, Sierra Leoneons long ago deemed these distinctions to be irrelevant.

So what does it matter whether the bone you just cleaned came out of a chicken, goat, cat, monkey, bushrat or lizard? Is it not tasty, well-textured, and full of protein? Are all your family pets accounted for? Well then, stop overthinking it - dig in and enjoy!