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Breaking the Attitudes of Foreign Dependency

by Ras Tyehimba
September 04, 2006

In Trinidad and Tobago our preferences for things foreign manifests not only in terms of foreign 'experts' (Scotland Yard, Professor Stephen Mastrofski et al), television programming, music, and aesthetics, but also in what we choose to eat. Along with the colonization of minds, has come the colonization of taste buds. How else can one explain the food import bill of Trinidad and Tobago being an annual 2 billion dollars? This is not to say that importing food products is bad, as it is beneficial for us to trade and import products that we cannot produce locally. However, the over-reliance on, and overvaluing of food items that come from outside is to our own detriment. It is not ordinary people that benefit from the high importation of foreign food products, rather it is big businesses who really benefit.

Unfortunately, much of the foreign products we value are not in our best interest. Of course, firstly, the intention behind the production of most things in the capitalist oriented global economy is not to satisfy the best interests of consumers, but rather to make as much money as possible, even if this means damaging consumers and the environment. Thus manufacturers spend great resources to create products that are palatable to the taste buds, but often these products are not in people's best health interest. It may smell good and taste good, but it does not nourish those who consume it.

Many of the food products being imported are genetically modified. Genetic engineering, or genetic modification, involves changing the DNA of an organism by transferring genes between and within different living things. For instance, you could take a gene from an orange and insert it into the DNA of a tomato so it can be bigger. Though this may mean that the crops are bigger, more resilient and tastier, the impact of these GM foods on human beings and the environment can be very harmful. Worse yet, none of the GM (genetically modified) foods are labelled as such so that consumers are not given the information so that they can choose. The European Union having resisted the importation of GM foods have been told by the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to remove the ban on such products.

The greed and related poor practices of manufacturers has had detrimental effects all over the world. The infamous Mad Cow disease seems to have been created from the practice of forcing cattle to become cannibals. To cut costs, the remains of cows were processed and turned into feed, and fed back to cows. In the poultry industry, steroids are injected into the chickens so that instead of taking months to grow, they grow in six weeks or less. These practices are far from healthy.

As a testament of the growing standardization (read Americanization) of the tastes of the world's people, the list of foreign food franchises is getting longer and longer: KFC, Royal Castle, Tony Roma, TGI Friday, Subway, Hooters and Rituals are becoming mainstays in the dietary preferences of the population. It is clear that globalisation is merely the buzz word for Americanization. Of course people are free to buy and eat whatever they wish to, but the choices that are made say a lot about what is valued and perceived to be the best. It is not that foreign food products are inherently more superior to what can be produced locally. However, from a young age, children are indoctrinated in a value system in which foreign things have a high status and value attached to it. Television programmes and the media in general have a great influence in perpetuating the 'worship of foreign'.

Even the focus on foreign fruits (apples, grapes and pears) means that many children grow up without the pleasures of tasting pewa, chennet, balata, soursop, kaimite, sapodilla, five fingers, star apple, custard apple, mammy-apple and the many varieties of mangoes that we have. There is also a good variety of locally grown provisions, such as cassava, yam, kush kush, dasheen and eddoes that are known for their nutritious value.

Unlike other Caribbean countries, who do not have oil and gas, T&T's booming oil and gas sector has made the agricultural industry less of a priority. Numerous commentators have made mention of the neglect of the agricultural sector by successive governments.

With rising food costs having consumers reeling, it makes sense for us to go back to the roots. The issues blocking the progress of the local agricultural industry need to be widely discussed. Focusing on locally grown food crops can encourage persons to become more aware of what they are eating and the ill effects of certain choices. Processed foods are less healthy than unprocessed foods. By consumers making healthier choices, the high import bill can be reduced, to the benefit of the local economy and to the local population.

With the annual Independence Day celebrations just gone, the population will do well to reflect on the state of our dependence on foreign things, and not only in terms of food. How beneficial is it to the development of the country to continually blindly mimic foreign orientations and preferences. Even when attempts are made to produce something locally, the end result is often tainted by blind subservience to foreign ways of doing things. Certainly, this is a situation faced by all so called third world countries so it is not a problem unique to Trinidad and Tobago. If Independence Day is to be more than a ritualistic hollow commemoration of a state that we have not yet reached, there needs to be a greater dialogue and understanding of Trinbagonian reality, so that subservience to foreign forces and their local allies can be countered.

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