I read two different articles last week on what Jamaicans like to call “human trafficking.” One was entitled Did slaves harvest the palm oil that went into your cookie?
— grist (@grist) July 31, 2015
and the other ‘Sea Slaves’: the human misery that feeds pets and livestock.
— Ian Urbina (@ian_urbina) July 31, 2015
Both articles tell the story of ‘trafficked humans,’ who either legally sign up for work not knowing what they are getting into or who are stolen and forced to work in inhumane and debasing conditions. I say “what Jamaicans like to call” (and really it’s not just Jamaicans) because we’re not calling this global crisis what it really is: slave trade. Human beings forced to work, given little to eat, drink or survive, killed, beaten, violated in every way possible, and we want to put a pretty term on it? Really?
In the few months I’ve been home, I’ve realized that typically we, Jamaicans, don’t think about where our food really comes from. It isn’t a question that comes into our minds. Ask how was our chicken raised? That doesn’t really matter much. Ask if our vegetables were sprayed with pesticides? ‘So what if they are? We have to eat.’ We do read labels, mostly to see “Product of Jamaica.” And even when a product is Jamaican, we are, often times, less likely to buy it, maybe because we believe better products come from outside our island, maybe for other reasons.
We have mindsets that do not support buying our own food and we do not ask questions of our food system.
These two simple facts (in conjunction with others of course) have led to:
- our ridiculous US$1 billion import bill
- the flooding of our market with foreign food
- increasing incidence of diet-related illnesses and diseases
- erosion of our indigenous food culture
- degradation of our agricultural sector
- importation of foreign agricultural technologies not suited to our food system
- lack of economic support for our farmers and fisherfolk
- degradation of our soils
- …the list goes on
We have stripped the dignity and nobility from our land and waters, and their stewards.
In doing so, we have supported the work of slave traders who strip basic human dignity, nobility and rights from the lives of our brothers and sisters around the world.
I guarantee you that several, maybe even most, of the ingredients on our supermarket shelves, in our shops and stores, at our corner wholesale, are somehow linked to slave labour. The palm oil in our chips, where does that come from? The fish in our cat food, where were they raised? And even closer to home, how do we raise our own meat and fish? How do we grow our fruits, vegetables and ground provisions?
I balk at finding the answers to these questions. Seriously, when the Government of Jamaica still supports the use of Roundup, I am nervous about what I might uncover.
Talk of emancipation in this context is almost blasphemous. How can we celebrate our own emancipation and independence as a nation yet choose to enable the slavery of others?
Examination time Jamaica.
Till next time,