Mon | May 25, 2020

Krysten Giles | A diet of plastics and tins …

Published:Monday | March 30, 2020 | 12:20 AM
Kristen Gyles
Kristen Gyles

WITH A number of communities under lockdown due to the efforts of the Government to limit community transmission of the COVID-19, a number of social issues have arisen.

The most pressing right now seems to be the inability of some citizens to freely access food items, since they have their movement restricted; but also, the general incapacity of many to even afford food, since their variable incomes have been jeopardised by the new quarantine rules.

Those who do have money to spend, in many cases, simply don’t live within close enough proximity to shops, wholesales and other food distributors anyway.

The Ministry of Health and Wellness has dutifully sought to correct the problem by distributing care packages (of food and other household supplies) to people in the communities formally on lockdown. When Bull Bay was under quarantine, they provided food packages to over 10,000 persons and committed to providing necessities like water and medicines. Very commendable.

What is unfortunate, though, is that in a time like this, when we hear talks of a looming recession and when small farmers are bemoaning the spoilage of their crops, what is being distributed are imported food items.

With many of our Jamaican farmers quoting losses in the hundreds of thousands (since the touchdown of COVID-19), it would be a waste of an opportunity for the Government to not actively pursue business with our small farmers and redistribute their harvested crops to the isolated citizens of communities like Cornpiece, Clarendon, and those still under lockdown in Bull Bay.

With millions of dollars’ worth of crops like cucumbers, watermelons, lettuce and other plant foods now going to waste, it is a shame that we are still actively distributing imported food items in these care packages. To complicate matters, these imported items are largely non-perishable stuff that can, in all honesty, be utilised long after the clearing up of the COVID-19 saga.

I strongly agree with Mr Lenworth Fulton, president of the Jamaica Agricultural Society, when he suggests that the contents of these care packages should include some of our own agricultural produce. Rather than one big bag full of crackers and tin foods which can be utilised months, and even years, into the future, why not provide packages of our own locally grown food items?

A care package consisting of starch foods like potatoes, yams and bananas, with callaloo, pak choi, peas and beans, would make a lot more sense at this time. Throw in some of the wasting canteloupes, watermelons, pineapples and cucumbers, and these people will not only have a wide assortment of mineral-rich foods, but will also be encouraged to cultivate a taste for our own local produce.

But, I understand. The Government might be afraid that some of these citizens will turn up their noses at the ‘bag a bush’ and will want to know why they were given grass to eat instead of the rice and mackerel they are used to. After years of living off bully beef, tin sausage and ‘chee chiks’, people don’t want to hear that they must cook yam and callaloo.

In these times (as in all times), we apparently prefer sitting around the (imported) flesh pots of Egypt than eating the literal fruits and vegetables of our labour. Unfortunate, but true. Meanwhile, our farmers go hungry because their own people prefer a diet of plastics and tins over our own agricultural produce.

If we are serious about mitigating the effects of the impending economic downturn, we really need to stop acting like it.

SMART AND HEALTHY

The current situation within which we have found ourselves as a country presents an amazing opportunity for the Government to encourage simple habits that will not only bring benefits to the country at large, but to individual citizens. The Government has been trying hard to re-engineer the social fabric of our society against any sentiment that tells us we must hug, hold hands, and ‘chups’ each other.

This is all well and good for the time being. What seems to be missing all together from the narrative being pushed by the Government, is the importance of buttressing the immune system against the various external threats during this time, which would include not only COVID-19, but dengue, the common flu, and other sicknesses from which many have lost their lives.

Many doctors have been saying it: A good immune system is the best line of defence against the COVID-19 virus. For all the handwashing and social distancing we practise collectively, many persons will still be infected. How will the salt mackerel tins and dry chips help the most physically vulnerable to recover from sickness when and if they are infected?

At this time, farmers should be hardly able to keep up with the demand for natural-grown, vitamin-rich foods.

With an awesome sense of responsiveness to the COVID-19 crisis that has been noted by many, including the Miami Herald, it doesn’t surprise me that the Government has been able to quickly get the care-package initiative off the ground, which speaks to mature leadership.

The additional step that is now needed is for us to recognise the value of growing what we eat, and eating what we grow. Right now, it is the smartest and healthiest thing to do.

Krysten Giles is an educator and an actuarial science graduate. Email feedback to kristengyles@gmail.com and columns@gleanerjm.com.