A few days ago, I decided to head to the supermarket to pick up some groceries, namely some fruit, vegetables and beverages to drink when I wasn’t sipping on cold water because Barbados is hot all year long. I was a bit disturbed by what I continued to notice. I knew things were expensive before, but I was quite frustrated when I started to calculate and reason out how I could get the most healthy selection within my budget.
Keep in mind that all prices mentioned are in Barbados dollars (BD$2= US$1).
When I first got to the produce section, I searched for some of my regular purchases and realized being unemployed, and wanting to eat adequate servings of fruit and vegetables left one with a difficult choice. I picked up a bag of 10 oranges for $10.99, a small bag of 5 tiny Gala apples for $3.50, half of a cantaloupe for $4.39 and a bag of onions ($1.85) out of necessity. To be honest, I hadn’t quite written a list because I had not yet decided what I wanted to cook for the week, as sometimes I’d choose my fruit and veg based on the price and what stood out to me. However, that was a terrible idea, as nothing stood out and there were no specials at that time. I did remember to buy some canned tomatoes ($5.50 for 2) for a sauce I planned to make, given it would have a longer shelf-life than fresh tomatoes, which I don’t remember finding.
Let’s subtotal: $26.23 for produce (including canned tomatoes).
Moving on to the beverage aisle, I decided since I wouldn’t get all 5 servings of fruit and veg from the produce section, I could try for some 100% fruit juice, but who was I kidding? Shelves of juice with every tropical name imaginable and only a small percentage of them were 100% real. Even our local brand PineHill Dairy had nothing to show in lieu of fresh fruit juices, simply beverages from concentrate. The next off-putting thing was the price! Where you could get 1 litre of fruit juice made from concentrate for at least $4.00, those from real fruit easily cost around $6.00 or higher. Leaving me to ponder was this worth it? Meanwhile, 2 litres of my favourite soft drink cost me $4.99. I decided to go for Cola.
My next stop should have been some nuts, or legumes to make up my other serving of fruit and vegetables daily, but as I have found, many of the nuts sold in typical supermarkets are salted, sweetened or coated in confectionery like chocolate. Now, as much as I love these, Ping Pongs (chocolate-coated peanuts) being one of my favourites, I should also have the option of the plain nuts in supermarkets. And because they weren’t, I ended up not purchasing any. But I could have perhaps gotten peas or beans, which are usually quite reasonably priced and come canned or dried for easy accessibility.
I left the supermarket feeling very frustrated and robbed. Spending just over $30 on things that could not make a meal together. Granted this was a top-up shop, who knows how much I would have had to spend if I included staples like pasta and rice or animal-based protein?
We have this very vague description of the minimum wage, where the only stipulation which I’m aware of refers to shop assistants receiving a wage of BD$6.25/h. If I do some calculating, within one 40-h working week, they would make BD$250 (around US$125 weekly). Along with the other living expenses one has, I could see how just meeting the recommended servings of fruit and vegetables daily could seem quite unrealistic, leaving people in a state of food poverty. Even in my shopping, I did not include nuts, pulses, fruit juice, or vegetables, yet my bill was already over $25.
Just recently an article published by the local newspapers highlighted the CEO World Magazine ranking for the most expensive countries to live in, with my dear sweet Barbados making #12. From the figures they’ve used to consolidate their findings, it appears as though the cost of living and grocery index may be pushing Barbados higher up the list. This was the perfect piece of evidence for me because as if it wasn’t bad enough with the number of persons begging and crying out for help, here are some figures to prove it.
I cannot be oblivious to our high food import bill either, as the industry in Barbados is grounded in Tourism, with only a small market share in Agriculture and Manufacturing, something that I discussed in my master’s dissertation. But how can we then say to our citizens that we need them to eat a better diet when it is so expensive even for the most basic things? How can we deal with this health issue? Should we be looking to increase local fruit and vegetable production to meet adequate servings as the National Nutrition Council has suggested in the healthy eating guidelines? Perhaps tax subsidises could help the Agricultural industry, but how would this fit into any regulations we have from our debtors?
Maybe more of us be growing our own vegetables and fruit trees if we have the yard space. What about sharing with our neighbours? A practice that was more familiar in the time of my parents and grandparents. Should we be lobbying for supermarkets to improve their pricing and product offerings?
What thoughts do you have on the cost of fruits and vegetables in Barbados? Do you think adequate servings (five or more daily) is possible on your budget?
NB: Starchy root vegetables like potatoes, cassava and yams are not counted in the five a day. Photos were not taken at the same time I visited the supermarket, nor are they from the same supermarket mentioned in this post. I visited a supermarket with a reputation for low prices.
Anna Papadopoulos, 2020. Most Expensive Countries In The World To Live In 2020 [WWW Document]. CEO World Magazine. URL https://ceoworld.biz/2020/02/03/most-expensive-countries-in-the-world-to-live-in-2020/
safe food, n.d. Food Poverty [WWW Document]. safe food. URL https://www.safefood.eu/Professional/Nutrition/Food-Poverty.aspx
Sustain, n.d. What is food poverty? [WWW Document]. Sustain Web. URL https://www.sustainweb.org/foodpoverty/whatisfoodpoverty/