Feed Your Head

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.

Biafran child
This photograph speaks for itself.

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.

A butter mountain
One of the original butter mountains... and these people seem to find it quite amusing, indeed.

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.

Mannish water
A bowl of typically murky mannish water, consumed in large quantities at Jamaican funerals.

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.

Girl with bag juice in Tivoli Gardens, Kingston
A girl keeping a firm grip on her bag juice in inner city Tivoli Gardens, west Kingston.

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.

Jamaican girl with a plate of food.

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21 thoughts on “Feed Your Head

  1. This is beautiful and heartfelt… Interestingly, you brought back memories for me… I was a Biafran and a survivor of that horrific war… The memories linger and, like you, I still remember the controversy around the mountains of butter going to waste in Europe… Food is so crucial and yet some waste it while others don’t even get it. TY for stopping by too. Great post.


    1. Dear Elizabeth (my sister’s name): Thank you so much for your lovely comment. I am sure the memories must remain and hope they don’t bring you too much bitterness. I can only imagine the horror of that civil war. But I looked up your blog and subscribed to it, and I also “liked” your FB page Positive Kismet and shared it with a couple of friends. I have a feeling it is going to give me much inspiration in the coming months as I go through some transitions in my life (retirement!) Warm wishes from Jamaica on a national holiday – National Heroes Day.


      1. Thank you so much for your comments above and for tweeting about my blog… I am touched and need to visit Twitter a bit more… Fell off that wagon when life got hectic. I’ve subscribed to your blog too and look forward to your posts… 🙂


      2. I don’t tweet that much, but it is good way to share things quickly. I find it enjoyable but don’t spend too much time on it. Still spend more (too much!) time on Facebook.


  2. What a post.. Glad you came out with the girl pic (juice packet) and facts about Jamaica.. I agree to your point “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.” It may help many people to eat at least once in a day. 🙂 PS: what could food starvation can do? Read my post here for BAD 2011

    Someone is Special


    1. Thanks so much, and I’m glad you blogged for BAD 2011 too! I am sure that there are other developing countries like Jamaica, where HUNGER is a nagging, under-the-surface problem that is not always addressed. Thank you so much for your comment, and I am going to read YOUR blog post now! Please subscribe if you would like to… All the best. PS the photo of the girl with the “bag juice” was taken by a local photojournalist when the press went into the depressed neighborhood of Tivoli Gardens, after a terrible attack by the security forces while they were looking for a criminal “don” there. It’s a long story, but the sadness is in her eyes, as well as the hunger most likely too. The place was under siege. It was a tragic episode (May 2010)….


    1. Why thank you, Jack! I took the plunge and decided a new look was needed. I like it in some respects but had got used to the old one. I always use my own photos for the header and this “gold” one was a picture I took in California of a (half-eaten) peach sitting on a shiny gold-painted plate…


      1. Jack – it’s true. I guess that, although we live in a lovely house in Kingston and have everything we need, we are always aware that we are privileged (I hate to use the word “lucky”) and that others do not have the lifestyle we have – far from it. I see some street people (many of them mentally ill) and wonder about their lives. And then there are the people who are just struggling, and barely managing to make ends meet. I have spoken to teachers, and they can easily recognize a hungry child. Some schools have introduced breakfast programs. I was thinking about the “butter mountain” etc which has literally been around since I was a child! Decades of waste… I was rather shocked when I did some googling to realize that it still exists! When will it end, indeed.


  3. In the West we all too often forget that much of the world goes to be bed hungry. We wantonly throw away good food because we buy too much of it. Our lives are a litany of waste. The freedom to eat is the most basic human right. When will it end?


  4. Aww.. Growing up, my mom has always been very vigilant in making us understand that there are really people around the world starving.

    It’s a good thing there are people like you who are concerned about them. It may just seem like a ‘simple sandwich’ but it still makes a difference..

    Thanks for the reminder =)


    1. Dear Viviene: Thank you so much for your lovely comment, and welcome to my blog. We have a very high quality lifestyle here in Kingston, Jamaica – but we are a third world country and we are always aware of those who wake up hungry and have nothing to eat, and those who go to bed hungry at night. We can find them – young and old – just around the corner. Life in developing countries for the majority of the population is a constant struggle. Food is a basic necessity. There are organizations though that do amazing things here – like Missionaries of the Poor founded by a local priest, who have just opened another soup kitchen in downtown Kingston for our many homeless street people.
      Thanks again, and please keep reading my blog! Subscribe if you like…


    1. Dear Wandering Mist: Thanks so much for your comment, and welcome to my blog! I will look up yours too. I know it is not only in Jamaica. But in developing countries you are close to it. We have a lovely house and beautiful garden (although I wouldn’t say we are rich by any means) but we are always aware of how close we are to those who are struggling to keep their heads above water and feed their kids. And I know it happens even in developed countries. As one of my friends commented just now – there is SO much WASTE. Even here in Jamaica, someone wrote to the newspapers complaining about how unconsumed food in a hospital is literally thrown out! That’s criminal! Thanks again, and please keep reading my blog…


      1. This is so true. That is why this kind of sharing is so important. It helps to motivate us all, and to keep the dialogue going on what we need to do. “One Love” from Jamaica and keep in touch!


  5. This is a fabulous blog post. Saw the link to it on StooshPR and I think it’s great awareness. The thing is that most of us ARE aware but turn a blind eye or simply don’t know what to do to help! Sometimes the problems in Ja seem so far gone that a single person looking in wouldn’t know how to change a thing.


    1. Thank you SO much! I am glad you found it on Stoosh and thank you for your kind comments… I think there is a feeling in Jamaica that it is all too overwhelming. I often feel that way. But I think you can just change things even in your own small way, by helping even one or two people. If everyone did that – helped one or two of their fellow Jamaicans – the cumulative effect of all those small actions would be quite substantial! Thanks for your lovely comment and do keep reading my blog – subscribe if you like! Have a wonderful day.


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