While reading Barbados TODAY, as is my daily custom, I was startled by a story which appeared earlier this week. In it, the Sub-Regional Coordinator for the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in the Caribbean, Dr Lystra Fletcher-Paul, indicated that the Barbadian appetite for “unhealthy” foreign foods was having a severe impact on the island’s economy. She pointed out that 87 per cent of the food consumed locally was imported and the staggering cost was $600 million annually.
Although the fact that our food import bill is way too high and is always present in the back of one’s mind, to see it in writing drives home the reality in an even more emphatic manner. How a country that is as small as ours has reached this state is mindboggling; moreover, this is definitely a topic not only to ponder, but one that can provide a long and heated debate. Some of the reasons that readily come to mind are the infiltration of fast food; the spending power of affluent people who can afford more; and the influence of television driving the crave and opportunity for imports because the now media-informed public is very eager to buy.
These are just a few possible explanations, but whatever the reason, given the gravity of the situation, it will take a collective effort from our agriculturists, manufacturers, processors and, of course, our chefs, to get the island back on track. From the chefs’ perspective, we now have to see ourselves as the people tasked with the responsibility of making our population eat locally-grown, manufactured or even processed products. To do this, we have to first bear in mind that social media make this a small world, as everything is seen by everyone; we therefore have to improve what we produce.
While we must encourage our people to eat local ground provisions and locally-reared meats as a first choice, we have to find interesting and exciting ways to do this. We have to go further and look at secondary products by going deep into research and development to create food items from locally grown fruits, vegetables, meats and poultry. One area that readily comes to mind is the frozen ready-to-eat meals which we are yet to see on our shelves.
In any supermarket, you can find a variety of these types of meals that are imported; you don’t have to stand too long in the aisle to see how quickly they move off of the shelves. We are yet to see a 100 % Bajan frozen dinner and this is one of the directions in which we can be headed, as consumers are looking for quick meals after a long, hard day. We can’t hold back progress and if the public is demanding quick grab items, the onus is on us to develop these things from local products and produce, with emphasis placed on them being attractive, well flavoured and of good nutritional value.
Food security and protection of local production and manufacturing are critical. People with certain influences are still allowed to import items with low nutritional value and, in so doing, they sometimes wipe out locally produced items that are far superior in flavour, much higher in nutrition and better in price. I know this only too well, having had first-hand experience during the course of my business. Local producers of these products have had to sit helplessly by because they could not compete where advertising, marketing and connections are concerned.
We know the impact of these on people who are only too willing to gravitate towards anything that comes from outside our shores. We have to understand that sometimes it becomes necessary to protect people from themselves. So let me start by playing my small part and giving you a recipe which is easy to make – lightly curried Black Belly lamb stew.
CURRIED BLACK BELLY LAMB STEW INGREDIENTS
4lbs Black Belly lamb
2 tsp Mixed dry herbs
2tsp Brown Sugar
4tsp Curry powder
1/8tsp Scotch Bonnet Pepper
2tbsp Tomato paste
1tbsp Tomato Ketchup
4ozs Carrots diced
4ozs Potatoes diced
6ozs Green peas
2pts Chicken Stock
1. Remove lamb from bone; cut into one inch, dice and season with mixed dry herbs.
2. Set aside for at least one hour.
3. Heat oil in a thick bottom saucepan and caramelize the sugar and curry powder.
4. Add lamb and cook on medium heat for approximately five minutes.
5. Combine tomato paste, ketchup and flour with the lamb and cook for an additional three minutes.
6. Deglaze with rum; add remaining vegetables and stock.
7. Simmer until lamb is tender before adjusting seasoning with salt and pepper.