It is crazy expensive here. We were warned. Its easy to think of things like French Chevre or other luxury food items as being understandably pricey. However with less fancy items like apples, celery, leeks, potatoes – items that we think of as being inexpensive nutritious foods that we like to eat everyday–it becomes a lot harder to accept. But the import gods make no such distinction. You want it? Then thou shalt pay anyway… and through the nose…Paying for the privilege of maintaining expat standards is par for the course when you live outside your home country (whichever country that is – I lose track.) If you want peanut butter in (fill in your current country name) you pay. Which is not unreasonable as someone had to ship it here, pay import taxes, and find a niche market that buys it. And we accept that these are treats and, like all treats, they are an occasional expense that we justify as a reward for homesickness or little crutches to help with the challenges of adaptation. There’s not really much I can’t live without these days: maybe good tea, good coffee, healthy cereal (a great comfort food), cheese… but nothing I have to have. But oh I start to miss the variety and choice elsewhere!
I have long cherished the idea that it is good to eat local foods — at local prices — and to learn how to benefit from delicious cuisine that the locals enjoy without the extravagance and expense of expat imports. However, in practice, I’ve only had limited success. As I am a vegetarian, the quality of produce is of the highest importance and Jamaica and our previous two posts haven’t done very well in this respect. The Philippines had fabulous produce grown in the Northern part of Luzon, but after they trucked in down in unrefrigerated trucks for 10 hours in the searing heat and, after leaving it lying around for another 10 hours until a vendor bought it, by the time it reached our kitchen it was often putrefying from the inside out. I feared what I might find oozing in my vegetable bin after only 12 hours in the fridge! Local meats and poultry were tough and stringy. Fortunately, fish and fruit excelled.
In Kathmandu local, seasonal fruits and vegetables were sometimes very good, but many were imported from India and made the same sad journey to our table. Worse, bad sanitation made the consumption of fresh local produce dangerous without bleaching. Salad in the winter was a no-no because of a microscopic parasite. Yet, with some good kitchen management, it was my most successful attempt at eating local. Our housekeeper would shop from the local market, sanitize the vegetables and cook local food, which I had nearly every day for lunch.
Here in Jamaica I find a lot of the local food is not for me. Most vegetables are the starchy root variety, which have often been fried, so I head to the supermarket produce aisle for imported vegetables. I buy local produce there whenever I can, with mixed results, as the quality and freshness of local produce is often not there either. The imported vegetable prices are skyrocketedly crazy: $17 for a tiny, withered cauliflower. $20 for a punnet of yellowing mushrooms. A small bag of apples can cost $15. I just can’t do it most of the time. And I can’t get to the local markets which I am suspicious carry a better selection at better prices, so I am now actually looking at canned and frozen vegetables as a supplement to the overpriced “fresh” produce available to me. There are some imported quality brands available at reasonable prices. Its a quite exciting discovery and a new low at the same time.
Probably my biggest sell out on the subject of eating and buying locally is the move to Walmart online shopping. They ship orders over $45 for free and this opens a huge world of savings for items like mayonnaise, toilet paper, washing powder. If they can ship it, we can have it at one third to half the price that it costs in Kingston. A significant saving. The sellout comes when I think about principles of shopping local, how much jet fuel it took to fly my bread flour here. But then again, the same jet fuel was burned to bring these items to the local shelves where I pay 2-3 times the price, and the difference in cost is not supporting organic practices or paying carbon footprint taxes. So, I reckon that if I can’t live without it at all, and honesty I can’t–at least not without some of it–then I will continue support the exploitative practices of the Walton empire to get at their cheap prices, and will continue to burn jet fuel doing it. It doesn’t make me proud but it does make life happier.
On a more positive note, we are discovering the blue mountain farms that deliver fresh organic produce to Kingston. Getting it has been challenging between delivery dates, communication problems and junk mail filters…but hopefully next week we’ll get our first delivery. How exciting would it be to be able to buy good, fresh produce that supports local farmers? And hopefully doesn’t cost an arm and a leg either… More on this to follow (I hope!)
12 thoughts on “How Much?!!!”
Some interesting “food” for thought here. I’ve never really pondered how I would eat long-term in many of the countries I’ve visited. I’m a vegetarian, too, and there are so many places where that’s very hard work. I’ve learned to eat “ugly” produce, but I still can’t stomach anything on its way to being rotten, which is what a lot of it looks like after it sits around in the sun all day, as you noted. When traveling, it’s easier to deal with, but I can’t imagine how tough it is for you. I feel for you with your Walmart solution; it would be hard to elect to do it, but awfully tempting!
Its the “long term” part that is really key. We can all adapt and make do pretty easily for a finite period of time. But in the long term, as you say, it can get old very quickly. I’m really hoping that the organic farm deliveries, mixed with a few bags of frozen sliced mushrooms or cauliflower, will help improve the food options for me going forward.
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It would never have occurred to me that you couldn’t eat wonderful local produce everyday in the tropics. Wow, Walmart huh? I would never have thought it. It saves the day, but prompts other questions, as you’ve pointed out.
I know, right. All that sun, rain and warmth produces some very good fruit. (Jamaica has to have the world’s best avocados.) Its also cultural, I think. Some cuisines just don’t care that much about their veggies.
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Very interesting. It’s surprising that in a country like Jamaica agriculture is not common. Is it because of the landscape? Do any local people grow their own food? I am so grateful that the food situation here in Oaxaca is excellent – there is an abundance of fresh produce, much of which is grown locally. The surrounding valleys are enormous agricultural areas, and it’s not long from ground to table. Open air markets and street vendors are everywhere, and they have the best quality at the cheapest prices.
I’m sure the food has pesticides, but we clean it all with microdyne water to get rid of any microscopic critters, so that helps wash off at least some of the stuff that’s been sprayed on. We can’t drink the tap water, but purified water is purchased is 20 liter garafones, delivered to all the neighborhoods by small trucks, and is widely used by restaurants and even many street vendors. We are very lucky!
I think there are more choices here than are easily available to me. The larger, fresh air markets are in areas of town where its not so safe and are far away from work. Realistically the supermarket is my only choice other than some street vendors here and there. I can easily grab some bananas or avocados, but there’s no real market where I can go shopping for some produce for the week. Traditionally sugar cane and bananas were huge cash crops here and, although the industry has decreased significantly, you still see these farms as you drive around. But I’ve yet to see anything like cabbage, onion, or potato fields.
Mexico sounds like a fabulous food country and not so terribly far away from Jamaica. Oh well.. Maybe one of these days….!
I don’t know if every area of Mexico has the abundance of great food that there is in Oaxaca, but probably most areas do. I have not been in all parts of Mexico (hope to someday!) but the places I have visited offer such regional differences and specialties. The percentage of indigenous people in the state of Oaxaca is 35-50 % (probably 100% in the mountain villages) so their traditions have a huge influence on the food, art, religion, and daily life of this area, which is one of the reasons this is such a special place to live.
Marilyn – you inspired me to google more about the area. Looks fantastic and I followed your blog so I can learn more!
Hey I just stumbled upon your blog haha. Very interesting reads 🙂 Anyway, I’m from Kingston, lived here all my life, and while I’m not vegetarian I don’t understand the struggle to find fresh veggies. I hope you’ve found good solutions by now since this post is a year old, but there are some supermarkets in Liguanea, there’s Mega Mart and Price Smart near Havendale with decent (relatively fresh) options. There are the road side vendors like you say, farmers’ markets at the UWI fortnightly (university in Mona), the Papine market etc. The most eaten local non-starchy veggies are callaloo (Jamaican spinach), okra, pak choi (chinese cabbage), carrots, cabbage, tomatoes, cucumbers, pumpkin and onions. These r easy to find (especially callaloo). Avocadoes r seasonal, and starchy ones like sweet potatoes, yam and plantain (are plantains veggies? Lol) are great too in moderation
Hi Rochelle: Thanks for visiting and commenting. The main difference for me between now and a year ago is that I discovered that if I shop around and don’t have an expectation of finding something (ie carrots) that are in good shape and buy what I can find, I do much better. Pricemart is the best but the choice is quite limited. I’ve always had trouble in finding fresh stuff on the side or the road, or at Megamart for that matter–they seem to be the worst. I hear good things about some of the farmers markets although it can be tricky trying to schedule my time to be there on specific days. I have to admit that I am spoilt and love European produce markets and the community farm I used to belong to in the States. Everything looked like it was freshly picked! So my standards are high and I’m not that keen on a lot of the local starchy veg….although Callaloo is a blessing!
Haha that’s fine 🙂 glad you are getting on a bit better in finding produce
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