We have become local-food fanatics in our old age. It’s taken us a long time to see the light, but what can I tell you? We’re slow learners.
Cayman doesn’t produce much food – at least, food that we both like. I’m notorious (in my family) for disliking all vegetables except the staples – potatoes, tomatoes (yes, yes, I know…), beans, peas and carrots. I will eat lettuce and chick peas in salads, and fried rice with little unidentifiable bits and pieces mixed in, but I don’t seek those things out.
Cayman grows only tomatoes, of my staples, and those only in the season, whenever that is. Linda tries to grow them, but they ripen too quickly in the tropical sun, before they have time to reach a decent size. The farmers grow a lot of other veges that sell well, though not to me: callaloo and ackees and yams, breadfruit and plantain and cassava. And pumpkins. Linda makes super pumpkin scones, but there's not much pumpkin-taste to them, fortunately.
Plenty of local fruit, as it happens. In their respective seasons, we’re never short of local bananas, mangoes, papaya, limes, oranges of a sort, sweetsop (which is what we called “custard apple” when I was a boy), and the ever-present coconut. That’s quite a variety. We’re spoilt for choice, pretty much.
I don’t think any of those are organically farmed. Our small farmers use chemical weedkillers by the barrel, and some of the chemicals are wildly toxic. The local favourite is Paraquat, which is deathly, and the weapon of choice for the neighbours of dogs that bark all night. I wouldn’t want any of that on Linda’s tomatoes.
Local jams are occasionally sold at the farmers’ market up at Camana Bay every Wednesday, and at the main farmers’ market out Bodden Town way. There’s local honey again, now that Otto Watler is back in the game. All his bees died a couple of years ago, and had to be replaced. $15 is quite a high price – but they are big jars, and hold about a pint. About a pint: Mr Watler’s labels don’t tell us exactly how much; but we buy anyway. What the heck. Two tuppennies.
For meats and the like, we limit ourselves to local pork, beef and eggs, Jamaican chicken, and fish caught by local fishermen off the coasts of South America or on the reefs between there and here. All of that is more or less pure. Jamaican chickens aren’t free-range, but we trust the factories there not to pump them full of hormones like more sophisticated farmers do.
For the first fifteen years of my life I was brought up on home-grown mutton, and raw milk that Dad coaxed out of his Jersey cows first thing in the morning, every morning. We never drank sheep’s milk, for some reason; and Dad never kept goats. I’ll have to ask my brother; he will know why. Our meat always came from the skinniest old wether Dad could find. Tough as old boots, it was; all the fat and tender sheep went off to the markets in Toowoomba, to be sold at auction to the butchers.
We had a low-tech separator machine that separated the cream from the milk. Dad or Mum (I forget) churned some of the cream into butter – with more salt than was good for us, I’m sure. All that full-fat cream we guzzled… I wonder we three boys are still alive to remember it.
Actually, it’s not nostalgia that drove Linda and me back to locally produced food, but the artificial additives in today’s mass-produced food. American veges are dosed with Agent Orange to keep the bugs at bay, and American animals are injected with steroids and hormones to make them mature faster. This much is true: my man-boobs began shrinking the minute I stopped eating USDA meats.
During our backpacking days in the Middle East in the ‘60s, not being able to understand the languages of the region, and travelling poor, Linda and I used to inspect the pots bubbling away in the slum restaurants’ filthy kitchens. As a rule of thumb, and all else being equal, we would choose from the pot furthest away from the cockroaches and rat-droppings. Looking back now, we suspect that what we ate then was probably healthier than the food the agri-businesses palm off on the world today. What a sad judgment that is, on the modern way of life.