Column this week
So I’ve just finished having my lunch which, at £2.50, is one of the cheapest that can be had, falling short of a packet of crisps (chips) or a pack of fries from McDonald’s. Since neither of them is a healthy alternative; you’re safer with the sandwich altogether, although, as my stomach is now telling me, you’re no more likely to be satisfied. Anybody that knows me well knows that I am not a bread person and I never was. Where classmates would bring to school cute little diagonally cut creations filled with meats and various spreads, come lunchtime I could be seen with bowl of food and fork in hand. When it comes to my belly, I don’t make joke.
So why this change? Well, the area in which I work doesn’t have that great a variety of eating places. Remove the pub lunch of fried eggs, beans and ham and then take away the sandwich places and there isn’t that much left really. The area I worked in before had greater variety but, what can you do, for better hours and better pay I’ll take the culinary downfall thank you very much.
As I was handing over my money to the cashier it occurred to me – as it almost always does – that with the Trinidadian equivalent of this £2.50 (roughly $28) I could have purchased one helluva meal back home. Visions of Patraj ‘strimps’ roti with plenty pepper, Mario’s (the chef, not the restaurant) upstairs Town Centre Mall, Café Creole on Park Street – any one of these would have taken my money in exchange for a meal that would immediately induce groans of delight and a serious macajuel syndrome. As it is, I’m already planning a snack run in the next hour – if I can last that long – and I’m hoping somebody brings snacks for the office. A co-worker brought some “Indian sweets” this morning but they’re all florescent green and I’m not feeling that brave today.
It’s not even that good food is hard to come by up here. London still isn’t Trinidad where you’re hard pressed to find a restaurant selling food that makes you vexed to eat but because it has become so cosmopolitan, it’s possible to avoid the standard English fare of mushy peas and vinegar soaked chips and get great tasting food. The heartbreaking thing is it’s usually so expensive! It’s not that often one can afford to eat out and if you don’t bring lunch from home, well, crapaud smoke your pipe.
As I’m writing this column I’m remembering an article I read this morning about the latest craze in the country, freeganism. For those of you who don’t know what this is, I’ll explain it. Freeganism essentially means eating without paying. Now, I know that most Trinbagonians have been practising some form of freeganism for a long while now. Most of us have a whole list people we know who have mastered it. Some of us might fall in the category ourselves! We ‘fall in’ by neighbours, family and friends as soon as they turn off the stove and thusly, get a free, home cooked meal. A freegan in this country is somewhat different, however.
The idea of eating for free is usually seen as a protest against the amount of food that is wasted in Britain. Approximately 17 million tonnes of food are buried in landfills every year in this country with about four million tonnes being edible. Freegans attempt to live off of this four million. Yes folks, they dig up in garbage bins and extract food that has been thrown there and eat it. I know everyone reading this is probably going “Oh geeed!” right about now and yes, the idea strikes me as being very nasty too but part of me agrees that it makes sense.
Four million tonnes of food is a lot of food. To put this in perspective, back in 2003 when 14 million Ethiopians faced starvation, the country received 1.44 million tonnes of food to avert disaster. Doesn’t look so ridiculous now, does it? A TV documentary on food wastage showed just how bad the situation is. The TV presenter attempted to live for two weeks on the food found in rubbish bins. He started the project sceptical; by its end he was disheartened. Every day he was able to go to bins at the back of supermarkets, restaurants and coffee shops and dine on such tasties as salmon, sushi, fresh fruit that was slightly bruised and salads. This food had been tossed out for various reasons, but most of it was still edible. When he calculated how much he would have spent if he had paid for these same meals, the tally came up to almost £100.
Now, this doesn’t mean that I’m about to start diving head first in the dustbin behind Sainbury’s but it does put things into perspective, doesn’t it? While I live in a country where people throw away a banana if the skin isn’t unblemished, there are people for whom a banana might be the only meal for the day. Or even the week. The last thing on their minds would be a brown spot on the skin.