Jamaican Emancipendence: In Support of Global Slave Trades

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?

and the other ‘Sea Slaves’: the human misery that feeds pets and livestock.

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?

wpid-img_20150720_122501.jpgI 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,

Walk good.

Patty & Coco Bread with Big Small Moments

At the beginning of June, I was in the process of readjusting to life at home: finding new things to eat on a daily basis, new products for my hair and skin, new ways of getting around. In short, I was familiarizing myself with a new, old way of living. It would be a slight understatement to say I was finding my adjustment difficult (my previous post made that pretty clear). Yet, routines are made and broken every day when we choose to push through frustration and annoyance and discover something new, find a better way.

I have been finding my own better way in very small, seemingly insignificant moments, and I hadn’t realized it until I was *dun dun dun* eating a patty :-).

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For those who are Jamaican, you know the distinct and unique pleasure of a well-crafted patty and warm, well-buttered coco bread. Patty and coco bread (please note, it’s not good to have one without the other) is everyday food, “a delicacy for all Jamaicans,” as my brother says. A hot flaky meat, seafood or vegetable pie – curried chicken is my favourite – surrounded by poofy, sweet butteriness. Heaven :-).

I sat in my mother’s car savouring every bite, reflecting on this delicious privilege of being Jamaican, and I realized something. In many cases, our challenges are not as difficult as they seem to be. Our emotions and associated mindsets complicate our challenges and we end up feeling overwhelmed, incapable, and miserable. However, the age-old advice applies: breathe, and for the believers out there, trust where and how Your Daddy is leading you. Some new advice of my own to my future self: eat a patty and coco bread while you’re at it. 🙂

As to my current ambitions and exploits, I no longer want to be a chef! I know that may be shocking considering my previous determination to work on the line. However, after Blue Hill at Stone Barns, I’ve realized that restaurant culture is not for me. I may change my mind at a later date – sooner rather than later maybe – but for now that’s where it stands. Since I’ve been home, I’ve been trying to familiarize myself with where we are as a nation in terms of our food system, and where we are aiming to go. I am making different connections across the island and trying to find out where my talents, abilities, and passions would best fit as we navigate our way forward. Shout out to the Ujima Natural Farmers’ Market and the Source Farm Foundation & Eco-Village! Some great people doing great work that I’m becoming more involved in.

Till next time, walk good!

Back to Jamaica Confessions

I am so grateful to be home in Jamaica. Yet in the midst of being home, a few unexpected challenges have been vying for my attention. To summarize – I graduated from the Blue Hill at Stone Barns Front of House Apprenticeship in Restaurant Management and Service (FARMS) in March of this year. For those who are unfamiliar with the restaurant or the program, Blue Hill at Stone Barns is an award-winning, fine dining restaurant in Pocantico Hills, N.Y. I feel I should mention that we recently won the James Beard Foundation’s award for Most Outstanding Restaurant, and we’re the 49th best restaurant in the world i.e. we’re kind of a big deal 🙂 . As to the FARMS program, candidates are trained in every front of house position, learning to communicate the connection between food, farming and service to our guests. It was a rewarding, difficult, tearful and joyous journey. My time at Stone Barns was absolutely precious and I would do it all over again in a heartbeat – the tears notwithstanding. I stayed on at Blue Hill until April, but alas, I had to leave. I came home thinking I’d spend a month here, relaxing and doing a bit of research, before my next endeavor.

Cue the unforeseen challenges vying for my attention: the start date of my next endeavor was (understandably) pushed back to October. I have to support myself in the meantime.

Now, that’s a very simple sentence; the execution of that idea is a bit more troublesome than it might seem. Big things, like editing my American resume to look like a Jamaican resume and learning to take Jamaican public transportation (the bane of many Jamaicans’ existences), are difficult. Little things, like finding all-natural products for my hair and making nutritious wholesomely grown/ sourced breakfast decisions, are also difficult. Almost everything I expected to be easy is now difficult. So, I end up running around in circles of complaint and frustration. Most times I eventually get back to the ‘grateful to be home’ part. Other times I just fall asleep way too early and hope for a better day tomorrow.

Truthfully, in spite of all the difficulty, annoyance, frustration, awkwardness, and discomfort, I am so grateful to be home. Patience in the process. It’s also time to stop running around and get to work! 🙂

Who is a Jamaican Woman? Women’s Day Part II

Although Women’s Day was this past weekend, it’s still Women’s History Month; and according to Olivia ‘Babsy’ Grange, Jamaica’s Opposition Spokesperson on Gender Affairs, “Jamaica must empower its women through employment opportunities and institutional support.

Now all Jamaicans (and the entire planet’s population!) know how politicians can talk, and talk, and talk. And Ms. Grange isn’t wrong, in a very general sense. Employment opportunities and institutional support are great, generalized and stereotypically non-specific ideas for empowering women.

When it comes to specific strategies, goals, and planning, Jamaica’s politicians have a track record of being incapable of implementing  infrastructure that empowers any Jamaican, moreover the women of Jamaica.

So ignoring my naive hope that someday our politicians will find some wisdom, vision, and a passionate consuming love for our country, it’s up to Jamaican women to empower ourselves. 

We have a history of being resilient, determined, no-nonsense kind of women. We set our goals, and we reach them, despite what anyone would say or do to stop us. Have those qualities leached out of society? I doubt it. Jamaican women are strategic, in feeding their families, in their education, in business, and even in finding men!

It’s not our lack of ability or resources that limit us, it’s the way we think about who we are, and what we believe we can achieve.

I know what a Jamaican woman used to be, but right now a I don’t know who a Jamaican woman is. What are her defining characteristics? What makes her a woman? Is mainstream media in Jamaica highlighting images of women that empower other women across all age ranges? Yes there’s Tessanne, Yendi, but who else? Do we have mentoring programs where young girls see and are encouraged by living, breathing examples of powerful, beautiful and resilient women? 

I don’t know the answer to all those questions. And maybe I need to be enlightened (*hinthint* reader comments!).

However, as Jamaican women, I really do believe we have to learn to re-see ourselves, as independent, capable and beautiful. We can’t afford to wait on the government – in case you haven’t realized, they don’t care! It’s up to us to empower ourselves. We must be the drivers of our own change, and pass a renewed vision of the beauty, strength and capability of Jamaican women amongst ourselves

We already have the knowledge and the skill. The empowerment that we need begins in our minds.