Pot a boil but food nuh nuff
...belly full but wi hungrySunday, November 21, 2021
Nearly a decade ago I recall then Minister of Agriculture Roger Clarke declaring in the Parliament that he alone could eat the amount of rice that the former Minister of Agriculture Dr Christopher Tufton had initiated in an experimental 25-acre rice farm at Amity Hall in 2009. No doubt, he was insinuating that the project was so small that it would not and could not satisfy the demands of one person, let alone the Jamaican population.
When he said it, Parliament erupted in laughter. That was the quintessential Roger Clarke, whose personality will never be duplicated, but there was a deeper message that underscored his humour: The fact that Jamaicans eat a lot of rice then and even now.
Jamaica's import bill for rice annually is in excess of US$85 million ($13.2 billion).
Last year Jamaica imported more than US$31 million ($4.8 billion) in chicken back and turkey neck, most of which was resold at $250 per pound. Why do we buy so much chicken back, and other offals, instead of the good cuts? Simply, it comes down to what many Jamaicans can afford to eat on a daily basis. More than 70 per cent of our populace have insufficient resources to access safe or nutritious foods. (Jamaica Health and Lifestyle Survey III, 2016-2017)
Local chicken prices to Jamaican consumers increased five times this year. One pack of two leg quarters now retails in some supermarkets for $1,069 per kg ($488 per pound). That's almost 3.25 times more than the retail price in the US.
Chicken back is what is left of the chicken when the prime cuts are taken away. It is 44 per cent bone and mostly skin, which contains a small piece of meat called the oyster. The US has no market for these goods, so they're usually dumped here. Nor is there a market in the U.S for beef offals; namely, livers, kidneys, tongues, and tripe. Those are also sent to Jamaica, where we consume in excess of US$12.8 million (1.9 billion) worth.
Therefore, as a result, any increase in our exchange rate increases the cost of these items. As inflation continues to increase around the world many Jamaicans will not be able to afford even these items of minimal protein, so they turn to foods to help them feel full, like rice and flour, to build out a meal.
Wheat flour is a major staple in Jamaica. With the country listed among the highest per capita consumers of flour and flour-based products, imports of wheat in Jamaica amounted to 215,000 metric tons in 2019 — the highest figure reported in the Caribbean country since 2013. ( www.statista.com)
The Mayo Clinic suggests that a person who does not exercise should take in 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. For example, a person weighing 165 pounds or more should be taking in at least 60 grams of protein. Sources of chicken back and other beef offals do not give adequate protein, especially if only consumed once per day.
Protein is one of the three macronutrients the body needs for energy and feeling full. Without it a person can constantly feel hungry.
Research by The American Psychological Association reveals food insufficiency and hunger can contribute to toxic stress, negative moods, and leads to a higher prevalence of poor health conditions. Severe hunger is associated with anxiety and depression among children and suicidality in adolescents.
UNICEF has flagged growing child malnutrition as a crisis facing the world. This includes hidden hunger caused by a lack of essential nutrients, undernutrition, and obesity in children. In its 2019 report one in three children (200 million) under five years old worldwide were either undernourished or overweight. Almost two in three children between six months and two years of age are not being fed food that supports their rapidly growing bodies and brains, placing them at greater risk for poor brain development, weak learning, low immunity, increased infections, and, in many cases, death.
In 1962 malnutrition was the largest single cause of death in Jamaica for children under one year. Despite rapid declines in our child malnutrition rates, a recent study of 3- to 5-year-old children in rural Jamaica disclosed that 16 per cent were nutritionally at risk — 9 per cent were moderately to severely undernourished and close to 7 per cent were overweight as a result of insufficient portions of energy and other nutrients ( Tackling child malnutrition in Jamaica, 1962–2020, Hernice Atlink).
Currently 11.3 per cent of Jamaicans suffer from diabetes — nearly twice the worldwide average of 6.3 per cent.
Two months after the pandemic began 62 per cent of Jamaican households reported earnings below the national minimum wage. Low-income families and women were the hardest hit, with 59 per cent and 53 per cent of them, respectively, losing employment. For households that relied on savings, 50 per cent said their savings could only last for two weeks, 30 per cent said that it could only last one week, and 18 per cent for one day. As a consequence, many children in these living situations experienced then, and continue to face daily food shortages. Some 47 per cent of them reside in rural areas. (Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CaPRI), March 2021)
Presently, all fresh fruits and vegetables (inclusive of green and ripe bananas and plantains), all ground provisions (yam, dasheen, potatoes, etc), all legumes (peas, beans, etc), onion, garlic, all meats (except chicken), all fish, crustacean or mollusks milk, infant formula, rice, and counter flour do not attract General Consumption Tax (GCT). Recently the Government of Trinidad and Tobago took the decision to remove the value-added tax (VAT) on the most commonly purchased items in supermarkets by most households as a result of the increased food prices. Items such as family cereal, steel cut oats, kid's cereals, hot cereal oats, milk substitutes, condensed milk, instant coffee, ground coffee, black tea, green tea, orange juice, apple juice, still bottled water, seasoned meat, sausages (canned or other), canned tuna, canned mackerel, canned peas, mixed vegetables, beans and corn, mayonnaise, ketchup, roti skin, packaged soup, geera (crushed or ground), soya chunks, soya minced, ground dhal, cheese slices, table butter, peanut butter, pig's tail, ham slices, turkey slices, chicken lunch meats, bologna, fresh juice, biscuits and crackers, vegetable/soya bean oil, olive oil, coconut oil, canola oil, ghee, black pepper, and other spices.
We have an obligation to not let our people suffer from hunger or undernourishment. We have an obligation to help our people have affordable access to the right foods consistently, giving them a choice to eat substantial protein, wholesome vegetables, fruits and carbohydrates. The fact that too many Jamaicans have to survive on one meal per day, which may not have been nutritionally adequate for their long-term health and development, is not a good reflection on us as a country.
We need a review of the basic basket of foods that currently do not attract GCT and add to it implementing a focused agricultural system that employs the unemployable to produce basic foodstuff to help feed our children and the elderly at subsidised costs so that our people can afford the daily recommended doses of protein and vegetables.
Former US Ambassador to the United Nations Adlai E Stevenson said, “A hungry man is not a free man.” Bob Marley said, “A hungry man is an angry man.” Many who turn to a life of crime allude to inadequate State support and lack of opportunities as a means to feed themselves and their family — an illustration that a lack of access to food has always been a great contributor to crime. It's time we address how hunger affects the social fabric of our society.
Lisa Hanna is Member of Parliament for St Ann South Eastern, People's National Party spokesperson on foreign affairs and foreign trade, and a former Cabinet member.