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!)