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Saturday, May 25, 2013

What You Don’t See


A small sampling of St. Lucia's fresh fruit -- bounty of the
Windward Isles.  As we moved NW the options
dwindled dramatically.
Whenever NPR’s “Splendid Table” host Lynne Rosetto Kasper took a caller from Portland, she gushed, “Oh… Portland is such a great food town!” Indeed living in Pacific NW was a veritable cornicopia of farmer’s markets and community-sponsored agriculture.

I still didn’t realize how spoiled we are in the United States overall when it comes to fresh produce. 

The dazzling array of produce and fresh fish in St. Lucia, Martinique, Dominica and Guadaloupe’s huge open-air markets reinforced my false perception that local produce was bountiful throughout the Caribbean. 
The produce aisle at Mattew Town Great Inagua general store.
Nothing “fresh.”

The day before VAT took effect in St. Lucia (click read here to learn about VAT), the produce shelves were wiped bare.  St. Lucians didn’t realize most produce prices would be unaffected by VAT, but they didn’t want to take any chances.  With all the other options for produce in St. Lucia, I didn’t pay much attention.

Then, hurricane Sandy hit.  We were thousands of miles away in the Virgin Islands, but we were impacted.  Our weather wasn’t much affected, but Sandy stopped the flow of produce distribution.  Its impact in the Caribbean was staggering. Broad supermarket produce aisle shelves were largely empty.  Even long-storage veggies like onions and potatoes were bruised and mushy.

The produce compartment of our fridge – empty -- two weeks
after our last fresh produce purchase in Puerto Rico.
In Matthew Town, Great Inagua, we noticed our dinner out came with fresh salad, but the other side was canned peas.  Looking to restock our depleted fresh veggies, I stopped in Matthew Town’s general store the next day and found only onions, potatoes and a few bruised, wrinked bell peppers.  “This week’s produce shipment didn’t make it in,” explained the checker, when asked.  I realized how precious that simple iceberg salad that came with our dinner probably was.

When I started this trip, my intent was to eat more like a local.  I just didn’t expect to give up fresh produce as much as I have in the Caribbean, especially in the Bahamas.

Thank goodness for cabbage, onions and to a lesser degree, carrots, for their long shelf lives.

No-mayo Asian cabbage slaw is definitely a mainstay for us, along with canned veg. This time, when provisioning, we packed our small freezer with meat (chicken, pork, beef).  Next time out, I will insist on saving some space for frozen veg unless we’re sure fresh veg is available.

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