The organic Caribbean way

Organic living may seem like an “elite” trend. But, as Denise Chin explains, it’s really a return to old-fashioned ways

Illustration by Shalini Seereeram

Have we come full circle? Is the old becoming the new? From food to clothing, cosmetics to feminine hygiene products, spa treatments, incense and herbal supplements, it seems many people are now looking backwards to find the latest trends.

Organic products — not to be confused with vegan, gourmet, or green/whole/raw products — contain no pesticides, synthetic ingredients, or chemical fertilisers. Many people consider them safer for human consumption, and less likely to cause any adverse health situations. (And of course they’re healthier for our environment, since they mean fewer chemicals introduced into our ecosystems.) Internationally, the market for organic products is growing rapidly, with the food industry — everyone from manufacturers to supermarkets to restaurants — racing to grab a piece of the organic pie.

Ironically, many remote settlements and indigenous communities in the Caribbean that have not yet been fully “modernised” have always lived this way: rearing their own livestock, growing their crops without chemicals or pesticides, making their coconut oil the old-fashioned way. (And coconut, incidentally, is the latest “it” oil — move over, extra virgin olive oil.)

In recent decades — thanks to the advent of fast foods, sophisticated restaurants, and supermarket chains with their delectable offerings, as well as changing family cultures, urbanisation, and frequent visits abroad by locals — the Caribbean eagerly joined the rest of the world in rushing for the glitzy buzz of quick, on-demand convenience. Predictably, an onslaught of health problems and obesity issues arose soon after, especially with the younger generation, who would much rather eat out than eat at home.

No surprise, then, that the pendulum has finally swung the other way. Interest in organics, raw foods, whole grains, natural sugars and the like has grown gradually and now begun to soar, especially with specific groups, such as yoga practitioners and heath activists. Parents with children suffering from food and chemical allergies have also started trying to source healthier options.

Tourism has also played a role. In the Caribbean, visitors to more exclusive and upper-end hotels and resorts have started demanding that their meals contain whole grains, organic ingredients, and free-range meat and dairy — which in turn has encouraged many hotels to build their own greenhouses and support local organic farming. This is one trend that may be here to stay.

But the organic industry is still considered an elite phenomenon. Whatever their possible health risks, chemical fertilisers and pesticides do increase yields and bring down costs. Growing food without those chemicals is more expensive, but for many consumers the higher quality and safety of organic food is well worth the additional cost.

Even so, the cost of eating organically is still way too high for most of us not in a position to grow our own food. Samantha Antoine, owner of New Earth Organics in Trinidad, points out that although regular local produce and organic local produce may be somewhat comparable price-wise, the difference in cost between regular imported and organic imported fresh produce is enormous. This is also the case for other imported organic supplies, such as canned and frozen foods and dry goods. Therefore imported organic food is still pretty much a niche market, almost exclusively patronised by the well-off or those with serious medical issues.

But “there is a definite interest building, especially where food is concerned,” says Claire Haynes, a Barbados-based nutritionist. “Albeit a slow change. People are asking questions about how produce is grown, whether it is local, and how it will impact their health. However, there is also the fact that adding ‘organic’ to a label often jacks up the price, and given the already astronomical cost of food in Barbados, it isn’t hard to understand why some may choose not to purchase such products.”

This holds true across much of the region. Nonetheless, entrepreneurs have started opening charming retail outlets with more affordable local and imported hand-made organic offerings. Some are devoting entire agricultural estates to different types of produce, and some have come together to form organic farming communities that run cheerful farmers’ markets and trade shows. A few cocoa estates have gone fully chemical- and pesticide-free to produce organic chocolates. Coconut and sugar cane estates as well, with their offerings of oil and sugar. And pure, pristine organic honey is a real luxury for middle- to low-income pockets.

In Trinidad, some specialty food stores carry a limited range of organic products. Some Caribbean islands with large yoga communities, such as Trinidad and Barbados, have also begun generating holistic centres which promote organic living. And Jamaica boasts of lots of little “street food” huts that provide organic meals. (But if you’re eating organically for medical reasons, please check and make sure it’s the real deal.)

And if you still can’t afford to buy organic, don’t be too hard on yourself. At the very least, perhaps you can commit to buying more local produce (shortening the farm-to-table journey and reducing your carbon footprint), supporting the handful of new farmers’ markets, and asking your local supermarket or greengrocer to stock more organic produce — like they used to, in the long-time days before chemical sprays. As the demand for organic products grows, so will the options for green-minded consumers — and that will be a good thing not just for healthy eaters, but for our environment as well.

 

Eating green

Want to give the organic lifestyle a try? Here’s a short, and by no means complete, list of organic food producers and markets in selected Caribbean countries.

Antigua and Barbuda
Indies Green
Raw Island Products

Barbados
Hastings Farmers’ Market
Holder Hill Farmers’ Market
Brighton Farmers’ Market
Cheapside Market
Nature’s Produce
Jenn’s Health and Beauty
Earth Mother Botanicals
Relish Epicurea

Grenada
Mountain View Organics
Crayfish Bay Organic Farm
The Grenada Chocolate Company

Jamaica
Pantrepant Farm
Woodfood Market Garden
Zionites Farm

St Lucia
Fond Doux Estate
Organic Health Supplement & Whole Foods

Trinidad and Tobago
San Antonio Green Market
New Earth Organics
Bethany Estate
Cocobel Chocolate
Green Scents
Be Free Foods
Beyond Vitality

 

 

  • one organic jamaican

    A really interesting article. Indeed it seems that the ‘old’ is now the ‘new’. I for one firmly believe that our modern lives comes with the cost of eating well and wellbeing. There are organisations in the Caribbean that are fighting to make organic more affordable and accessible to the majority and not just available for the few. Farm Up Jamaica is one such initiative.