10 flying fish: $32.70
My love affair with flying fish has been lifelong.
There is no food more pleasing than two or three properly seasoned with a salt bread for breakfast.
This season, however, they have been in serious short supply both in the fish markets and supermarkets (Minister Kellman, please note!).
During supermarket shopping two Saturday mornings ago, my eyes lit up when for the first time in weeks, I saw quite a few packs.
My spirits fell, however, when I saw the price for a five-pack was $16.35 which meant that to satisfy my household, ten would send me digging deep in my pocket for $32.70.
I left them where they were and told my family I would be practising false economy buying them at that price. Since I was going to Oistins later that day, I would check if there were any fresh ones at a more affordable price. So said, so done. The price was $22 for a ten-pack. The most I had ever paid previously was $12 but the family’s yearning was running high and I picked up a pack.
All the way driving home I kept reflecting on the famous pronouncement that a fishing agreement with the government of Trinidad and Tobago could be settled over a bowl of fish soup in Consett Bay.
In its absence, our fishermen have learnt by bitter experience the dangers of fishing in the republic’s waters.
But fish is an important part of our population’s diet. With flying fish at an all-time high, dolphin selling at $8 whole and $8.50 cut and imported red snapper also at $8.50, what fish are we supposed to eat? Buy a tin of red salmon for $18.80, pink salmon for $10.90, or one pound of boneless cod for $14?
But not only has the price of fish gone through the ceiling, the price of sweet potato, another family favourite rich in nutritional value, has also recently escalated significantly. A bag of tiny ones we called “pickings” growing up in rural Barbados, was $7.29 a kilo, yams $4.99 a pound.
Speaking with a friend visiting from the United States, he reported with deep dismay paying $1.39 for one lime. At the top of his professional career, he could afford it, but he asked the same question many resident Barbadians ask daily: How do our fellow country people earning a basic wage with a family put a balanced meal on their tables?
During the 2008 Throne Speech in the presence of Dominica’s prime minister, we heard that fruit and vegetables would enter the local market from that productive country. When after three years not an orange or mango had arrived, we heard there were transport difficulties. Later, we heard that a LIAT plane was reconfigured to only carry cargo.
I still have not seen any Dominican fruit or vegetables on the streets of Bridgetown or the supermarkets. But I am told the cargo plane is flying. When will Barbadians, battered by the high cost of living generally and costly fruit and vegetables in particular, benefit from the promised trade with our Caricom neighbour?
There was talk all during the last election that the major priority was the cost of living. It has spiralled steeply since and now 19 per cent of our population is living below the poverty level as revealed last week in the House of Assembly by the Minister of Social Care. This is deeply troubling.
Equally troubling was the Minister of Labour’s report that youth employment is now at about 20 per cent. The nexus between poverty, unemployment and manifestations of anti-social behaviour are too well known to bear repetition here.
With that in mind, no effort should be spared to confront and hopefully ameliorate these problems at the highest level of Government. The same way the Prime Minister could invest traffic problems with high level attention by chairing the Road Safety Council, there is a far more urgent imperative for him to chair a national council dealing with such hot button issues as the cost of living, poverty and unemployment.
With more than 340 000 late model cellular phones, our well informed, techno-savvy young people are not concerned with problems crippling the economies of Europe and the United States spinning off into Barbados. Whether they will be exacerbated if the Iran blockade of the Straits of Hormuz becomes a reality, gas prices are hiked and our large import bill gets larger, is not their problem.
Many only want to keep pace with the Joneses and indulge their penchant for a fete exhibiting their social party/bashment proclivities. Those charged with the responsibilities of running the affairs of this country must step up to the plate. Time is not on their side.
• Peter Simmons, a social scientist, is a former diplomat. Email [email protected]