EDITORIAL - Preserving our food heritage
With the month of November marking this country’s Independence celebrations, local culture has been placed squarely in the spotlight. Along with the Performing Arts Gala for the annual National Independence Festival of Creative Arts, this past weekend saw Barbadian food take centre stage with the Barbados Food & Rum Festival 2017.
The latter event launched on Thursday night at the popular hotspot for food and entertainment, Oistins, and had events at other venues including The Condorde Experience, The Hilton Hotel, Apes Hill Polo Club, as well as a selection of amazing restaurants across the island. Guests were treated to creative concoctions and mouthwatering morsels, all of local origin, which simultaneously showcased Bajan talent and cuisine.
However, usually, when one thinks of Barbadian foods, conkies especially will be on the menu as the traditional food which symbolises Independence. They will be joined by other favourites like pone, sweetbread and cou-cou. Yet, how often do these local foods form part of our everyday meals? Baked goods like sweetbread and leadpipes continue to be popular throughout the year, but other local foods like cou-cou, breadfruits and yams are much less common in our everyday diets than they used to be.
Furthermore, many young people do not know how to prepare these local dishes. Even well-loved foods like fish cakes and bakes, although they are enjoyed by all, are often prepared mostly by the older generation. It seems that very few people under 40 can make them, or wish to make them. Why is this the case?
The fact that traditional dishes do not appear on our dinner tables is often attributed to them being unhealthy food choices. This belief, however, is somewhat inaccurate. The meals of our grandparents were filled with ground provisions like yams and cassava. They included vegetables as often as possible in their meals, making use of their kitchen gardens. Tomatoes, sweet peppers and onions went into the “butter sauce” along with the salt fish. Pigeon peas or field peas went into the rice, and in lieu of peas, green leafy vegetables such as Chinese cabbage were used instead.
Without realising it, our grandparents fuelled their daily labour with “good carbs”. Complex carbohydrates like those found in ground provisions and cereals breakdown slowly, providing energy throughout the day and avoiding the blood sugar spikes which can eventually become a contributing factor for diabetes. In comparison, many of us now eat foods filled with simple carbohydrates – bread and pasta products. We compound this by not following their example and using vegetables at every opportunity.
Research has proven that a diet rich in vegetables and fruits can greatly reduce the risk of developing the chronic diseases which are so prevalent in our society.
Or perhaps the reason why local dishes are less common today is not related to concerns about nutrition. Our busy modern lives mean more time is spent at the office or in our cars, than at home.
For women especially, the hectic pace of today’s lifestyle calls for convenience. Busy women often find it easier to use foods which are quickly prepared, such as pasta, as opposed to root crops like cassava which take longer to prepare.
Our busy lifestyles can also provide an explanation as to why so few young people know how to prepare our local dishes. When there is little time even to cook, there can be no time to learn how to prepare those dishes from the older generation.
This is unfortunate, not only because of the nutritional benefits of our local diet, or even because of the missed opportunity to reduce our national food bill. It is unfortunate because our cuisine is part of our heritage, just like folk songs. And just like other pieces of our heritage, it can be easily lost if efforts are not taken to preserve it.