Our food refuge rests in our land
There can be no denying that many a Barbadian family’s breakfast would be determined lacking in the absence of generous helpings of Kellogg’s Cornflakes –– or any of the product’s other derivatives. And the observation will have raised a healthier number of chuckles over gasps when Professor George Lamming alluded to it on Tuesday night at the Queen’s Park Steel Shed.
The Professor, addressing the first in the Barbados Museum & Historical Society lecture series on agriculture, on “the continuing constraints which have been placed on the power to exercise sovereignty and our freedom for self-definition”, as far as food consumption and production are concerned, will have struck many by his linkage of food with native culture. Argued the visiting professor at Brown University in the United States: “If there is one area in which we can identify the neglect, even the abandonment of cultural sovereignty, it is in the area of food production.”
Professor Lamming did not fail to impress upon his audience the sad state of the drastically reduced farmland on this island, and the full-grown Barbadian taste for food not remotely produced locally, not necessarily in the best interest of our health, and, to boot, at a price of more than $900 million in foreign exchange annually.
It was not a point missed by Minister of Agriculture Dr David Estwick previously. It has been two to three years now that Dr Estwick has been cautioning Barbadians that their continuing tastes for foreign products would have a negative long-term effect on Barbados’ economy –– but seemingly to no avail. He too had lamented Barbadians’ preference for foreign tastes which he said had been contributing to the island’s high food import bill –– yes, at some $900 million, an assault, we aver, on valuable foreign reserves, which we could ill-afford to misspend.
Worse yet, some of the imported goods could be produced here, the minister pointed out, while urging the appropriate players in the business sector to explore ways of using more local goods in preference to the high-costing imports. Dr Estwick reasonably and quite correctly argued that every time foreign exchange had to be expended to cover an import bill for items which could be produced in Barbados, it undermined Government’s quantity and adequacy of foreign reserves.
But the Minister of Agriculture did not placed the responsibility of reducing food imports solely on the business sector. He encouraged the average Barbadian to play his or her role in contributing to this country’s efforts at food security, sustainability and independence, for the greater part, by reviewing his or her tastes for things non-Barbadian and unquestionably non-essential. It is no secret that our supermarkets and other retailers have flooded us with all these needless commodities. We will be told, of course, that that is business.
But it raises a red flag when Professor Lamming can easily identify Barbadian breakfast of late as a synonym for Kellogg’s, and see the attendant foreign food taste and continued and accompanying imports of behalf of the Caribbean man as an “assault on his sovereignty”. Needless to say, this is all aided and abetted by million-dollar foreign television advertising and persuasion, majorly à la United States –– to which Professor Lamming is not at all kind.
As far as foreign food promotion goes, the professor opines it spells neglect for the Bajan farmer, and, as the noted author adds esoterically, would condemn to a hopeless struggle against the massive insult of imported television “the native actor, the native writer, the dancer, the musician, all these who strive for an authentic definition of themselves and their society”.
Surely, we as independent Barbadians cannot continue to be mesmerized by foreign food imageries and to be uncritical of their little benefit to us as persons, and to the drain on our country in respect of our colossal food import bill. It is incumbent upon us as a people to do what we can to aid in decreasing this unsustainable importation of food, in particular that portion of it that we can produce ourselves right here in Barbados.
This could only redound to Barbados’ fiscal stability, our true independence, and our high quality of health.
Our Minister of Agriculture too has a responsibility to commit his ministry to doing all it can to facilitate the greater use of local produce, to pursue expanded farmland for crop growing, and to seek increased agricultural production. To do less will be only be to identify the problem, but take no action.
Dr Estwick would have made himself devoid of the intent to resolve that cultural problem Professor Lamming has alluded to as a colonizing of eating habits of people who have surrendered their very palates to foreign control.