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How to 'eat a food' in Jamaica

Published:Monday | November 3, 2014 | 11:00 AM
Garth A. Rattray

The phrase 'eat a food' is the euphemism for earning money or making a living by any means possible. It's often used by people who are either genuinely in desperate need of money to meet their basic needs or by people who want to convey that impression to others for whatever reason.

It is sometimes used by the more privileged, and even the affluent, whenever they want to make it known that they, too, must work hard to maintain their lifestyle or to secure their financial future. Sometimes, they use the phrase in jest or to feign kinship with the less fortunate.

There are people in Jamaican society who have little choice in how they 'eat a food'. They are the people from the lower stratum of society who, because of their lack of higher education, must take casual labour or menial jobs in order to survive. Some choose to sell their bodies on the streets, by telephone arrangements or by engaging in somewhat committed, intimate relationships for financial support.

There are some from the middle, upper middle and even upper class who will sacrifice their bodies, their self-respect, their integrity/principles/morals or their eternal soul in order to 'eat a food'. Then, there are those, usually from the lower class, who are undereducated or uneducated and feel that their needs supersede the human rights of all others, so they will callously terrorise, maim or even kill in order to 'eat a food'. For all these individuals, the ends justify the means.

I recall hearing an executive of one of the bodies representing the drivers of public passenger vehicles (like taxis and small buses) unabashedly proclaiming, amid the police clampdown on illegality and indiscipline among some drivers, that drivers must sometimes break the law because they must "eat a food".

Such nonchalance

If an executive member can publicly disclose such a defiant, don't-care attitude towards the law as it relates to road safety, no wonder drivers of taxis and buses continue to write their own road codes and wreak havoc on our streets.

Politicians are not that well paid. Many company executives and managers earn far more than they do. Given the awesome responsibilities and the long, indeterminate hours that they work, their remuneration is inadequate. Some, I am told, find unethical, alternative sources of income in order to, 'eat a food'.

The majority of Jamaicans engage in honest labour. Most satisfy themselves with their income and spurn the 'eat a food' mentality wherein people will do just about anything to survive.

However, there are others who, by virtue of their social upbringing and moral character, see absolutely nothing wrong with breaking any and all rules and regulations (laws) in order to earn some money. In their minds, they justify their actions by saying that they are trying to keep one step ahead of starvation - so they must 'eat a food' like the more fortunate.

Such people do not see their actions as criminal; they see them as necessities to keep body and soul together. Of course, it doesn't matter to them how many lives they destroy as they cheat, steal or kill their way to achieving their goal.

In politics

For some people, involvement in politics, from the representational level to the dependent hangers-on, consistently provides the means for them to 'eat a food'. The political system also spawned very violent criminal gangs that have maintained their modus operandi but diversified their sources of income.

From the media reports on the recent quadruple killing in Linstead, St Catherine, the men taking salaries to nearby community members working on the (China Harbour Engineering Company) highway were targeted for robbery and murder. It was politics that facilitated their means to 'eat a food' and, ironically, it was the 'eat-a-food' mentality of the criminals that led to their slaughter. When will this stop?

Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and garthrattray@gmail.com.