MEAL TICKETS AS STATUS SYMBOLS
This series explores how National Youth Service Corps members (NYSC) use meal tickets as status symbols to place themselves into social classes. It looks at how people use objects as perceived, ‘markers’ of one’s social or economic standing amongst a group of people.
The National Youth Service Corps is a scheme established by the federal government of Nigeria shortly after the Nigerian civil war of 1973, under the three Rs (Reconciliation, Reconstruction, and Rebuilding) to foster and promote national unity amongst its many ethnic tribes. The scheme requires every Nigerian under the age of thirty, upon graduation from a university or polytechnic to contribute to the country’s growth during a one-year national service. At the commencement of the service year, corps members are posted to different states of the country where they are neither indigenes of, nor have ever resided. In these states, they are kept in a three-week orientation camp where they are taught about nation-building, community development, and the culture and nature of their host community.
In camp, every corps member is given a meal ticket to get food already allocated per head, by the federal government. However, due to a variance in food quality and taste expectations of corps members from so different socio-cultural and economic backgrounds, not everyone is particularly keen on eating the meals served. As a result, some corps members forgo their meals, instead supplementing or replacing it with food provisions or food purchased at the camp market popularly known as ‘Mammy Market’. Thus resulting in meal forfeitures which mean unticked boxes on the meal tickets. As a result, the
more you are able to forgo your meal — proven by how empty your meal ticket is — the better you can be perceived as ‘wealthy’, and vice versa. For some the less ticked boxes they have on their tickets help to validate or prove their financial capacity to members of the opposite sex, leading to gross assumptions of status. However, as the camp draws to a close, more corps members are compelled to use their meal tickets more often, due to depleted cash reserves or to satisfy the curiosity of their taste buds. The series uses the tickets as ‘face masks’ to in a sense, protect the identity of the subjects, especially as it becomes a tool for social elevation or denigration.
Status symbols are “perceived visible, external denotation of one’s social position”, used as an indicator for perceived social or economic standing amongst a group of people, (or status). Different objects serve as status symbols to different social circles even if they are of different value, and in the NYSC orientation camp the meal ticket is one of such symbols.