Annie Paul: Forget Trinidad, there’s plenty to boycott at home
It's a pleasure to be writing in local media again after a break of eight years. I wrote a column in the now-defunct Jamaica Herald from 1995 till 2008 when I decided it was time to stake a claim on the World Wide Web by starting my blog Active Voice (anniepaul.net). Active Voice has been phenomenally successful and enjoys a global readership, but I realise every time someone comes up and asks me why I've 'stopped writing' that a lot of local readers have not made the transition to the digital sphere and probably never will.
With this column, I will reach those readers again and am grateful for the opportunity to do so because I have missed them. It was the frank feedback and enthusiasm of Jamaican readers, their patience and goodwill when all too often I mashed someone's corns, which encouraged me to perfect my craft as a writer. It was my frustration or impatience with various situations in Jamaica that goaded me to write in the first place and my enduring fascination with Jamaican culture that has kept me writing. So thanks in advance for your tolerance and goodwill once again.
On May 1, Jamaica's much-feted writer, Olive Senior, won the 2016 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature, worth US$10,000. The NGC Bocas Lit Fest, held every April, "is Trinidad and Tobago's premier annual literary festival: a lively celebration of books, writers, writing, and ideas, with a Caribbean focus and international scope". A much smaller affair than Jamaica's Calabash Literary Festival, Bocas is nevertheless an important event with its array of prizes and workshops in addition to the usual jamboree of authors reading from their works.
Senior's win comes in the middle of a bitter back-and-forth between Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica, some of whose citizens are fed up with the ungracious treatment meted out to them on landing in the twin-island republic. The situation, aboil for several years, has seen Jamaica's foreign affairs minister calling for the Trinidadian government to improve holding facilities for Jamaicans denied entry to Trinidad and Tobago, while the head of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica, William Mahfood, wants to retaliate with a partial boycott of goods imported from Trinidad, many of whose products are to be found in Jamaican groceries.
This, in turn, has intensified the increasingly voluble campaign to 'eat Jamaican' and 'buy Jamaican' goods in preference to imported products, whether from Trinidad and Tobago or elsewhere. I'm always wary of such calls because they often verge on protectionism, especially when the product concerned is inferior or uneconomical and the only thing going for it is that it is 'made in Jamaica'.
When Andre Irons (@iAmDre1Alliance) sardonically tweets: Jamaican restaurants have a tight breakfast system. 9:30 (breakfast nuh ready yet) 9:31 (breakfast just done, lunch soon ready), we have no obligation to patronise such establishments. We would all love to 'eat Jamaican' all the time, but when restaurants fail to deliver, they shouldn't get our money. Make no mistake, I will go out of my way to pay extra for delicious Jamaican vegetables. Is there anything tastier than a Jamaican 'Irish', carrot or tomato? So quality and value for money should guide our spend, not country of origin and narrow jingoism.
Another consideration that should guide our consumption patterns is how ecologically and health-friendly a locally made product is. I was astonished by the reaction of the head of Wisynco, Andrew Mahfood, in a recent radio discussion on Senator Matthew Samuda's proposed motion for a ban on the importation of some plastic bags and Styrofoam containers. The head of Wisynco was incensed clearly the senator did not realise that the majority of Styrofoam used in the island was locally produced!
Never mind that the key ingredient in Styrofoam, styrene, is a possible carcinogenic and that the infernal white containers are not biodegradable. Wisynco's one-person lobby for the noxious foam seemed to be suggesting that because his company employs 250 persons, the senator and the rest of us should back off, and in effect, allow his firm to bury the island's future in a Styrofoam coffin.
I say NO! There are some things Jamaican that should not be supported, regardless of how many local people are employed in its production. If it's poisoning the atmosphere, you can be sure it's harming those who produce it as well. Styrene sickness is a thing. After all, what profits some does not always redound to the common good, whether it is made in Jamaica or not.
- Annie Paul is a writer and critic based at the University of the West Indies and author of the blog, Active Voice (anniepaul.net). Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet @anniepaul.