Today (or tomorrow, depending on where you are) is Blog Action Day 2011. As it is World Food Day, the theme is, inevitably, Food. And the Petchary is participating, along with (hopefully) thousands of other bloggers across the globe.
I was thinking that like Water, Food never used to be a “hot” issue. But that’s not really true. As a child, I remember growing up with the image of Biafran children (Biafra was a break-away state in Nigeria, which lasted on its own for just about three years until it was re-absorbed in 1970). The haunting images of children with swollen heads, distended bellies and hopeless eyes have been commonplace on our television screens ever since. The bitter Nigerian civil war brought famine, and many thousands of Igbo men, women and children died.
And, at the same time, I was hearing about a “wine lake” and a “butter mountain” in Europe, which was producing more food than it could possibly consume. I believe all the surplus wine from grapes grown mainly in France is still turned into industrial alcohol. And that big old butter mountain, created by Europe’s agricultural subsidies, once again reared up on the horizon just a couple of years ago. 30,000 tons of butter were bought up, at taxpayers’ expense, in 2009. The global economic slowdown has made matters worse – demand has dropped, prices for such commodities as butter and milk dropped. And then there is still a small range of grain mountains, too.
I used to naively wonder why all this excess couldn’t be simply transferred where it is needed, to the starving in Africa, Asia, and anywhere else where there was real need. Just kind of “spread the love.” But of course, we all know it isn’t as simple as that.
Where does that leave Jamaica, an island of close to three million – struggling as it is in a monstrous web of enormous debt, high unemployment, low productivity and environmental stress? No, we are not a happy little island where the natives sit underneath coconut trees all day – we have to “get a food” like everyone else (money/employment means, simply, food on the table). We have an amazing culinary tradition, going right back to the Tainos who created the extraordinarily wonderful jerk barbecue (chicken, pork etc). Then there’s ackee and saltfish; curry goat; mannish water (soup made of unmentionable parts of the goat) and a range of other soups that put hair on your chest; steamed callaloo; escoveitch fish and festival; and so many other spicy, heart-warming delights.
I think the problem for many Jamaicans on the lower end of the social scale is under-nourishment and very poor nutrition. Teachers in schools across the island, especially in inner-city and rural areas, will tell you that children come to school simply hungry. They may only have had a cup of tea for breakfast. There is a school feeding program, but is it enough and is the food nourishing? Jamaicans on the poverty line eat chicken back (the boniest part of the bird) which many of their wealthier fellow-countrymen and women feed to their dogs. Children on the street suck “bag juice” (basically sugar and water). With food prices soaring, it is a mystery to the Petchary how some poor Jamaicans manage to buy any food at all. For a developing country, the cost of food is extremely high.
What is the answer for Jamaica? The Agriculture Minister is urging us to grow food in our backyard, and more of this could be done. And yet there remain major deficiencies in our diet; and despite the plenty of the land and the supermarket shelves groaning with a tremendous range of imported foods and local produce, people still knock on our gate almost daily with the refrain, “Mi hungry.” We regularly find ourselves in the kitchen making a sandwich for some poor soul.
When people beg money, it’s one thing; when a young woman tells you she is hungry and you see her sit down on the sidewalk and devour the sandwich you just made, it is a very disturbing matter.
Yes, food is an issue here in Jamaica. Although some may not wish to believe so.
- World Food Day is October 16: How will you participate? (wagnerfpa.wordpress.com)
- World Food Day: Feeding Bangladesh – Caritas Internationalis (cafod.org.uk)
- EU’s butter mountain is back (New York Times)
- The Learning Network Blog: World Food Day: Addressing Hunger Around the Globe (learning.blogs.nytimes.com)
- Do You Really Know All About Jamaican FOOD??? (caribbeanrecipekits.wordpress.com)
- The Nigerian Civil War Photography of Hakan Gottberg (africaunchained.blogspot.com)