Since our successful rise to independence, all Jamaicans have all been a proud people and each year as we celebrate our anniversary we become prouder still. We are proud because of the pains of our history and the struggles we faced to overcome them. In all our pride, we should try not to deceive ourselves by refusing to admit that our nation is slowly dying.
One of the basic necessity for survival is food, and Jamaica’s national dish is one of the most expensive meals in the common household. It comprises of Ackee and salt fish, but every yardy knows that we need a lot more than that to make this meal as tasty as it is. Other general ingredients include onions, tomatoes, bell peppers, black pepper, oil (that is just the basic of what is needed to get the pot bubbling).
But can we really afford this meal?
Saltfish has become a delectable gourmet dish, quite out of the reach of the poor people that are undoubtedly a part of our society. It has become so expensive that poorer classes are only able to purchase it in bits and pieces, soaring so far out of reach as top shelf liquor. At a whopping $450 per pound, buying a whole pound of sailfish these days is just a luxury that we can’t afford. Why is salfish so expensive one may ask? Simply because it isn’t something we source ourselves, it has to be imported but it is such a disappointment that even though we are conveniently in the centre of a sea of fish, we still seem to think that Canadian and Norwegian cod is the most appropriate complement to our ackee.
Now let us look at the ackee, it was introduced to us around 1778 and was said to have been brought to Jamaica on a slave ship from the coast of Africa. The fruit has taken very kindly to Jamaican soil and flourishes with produce each year. The ackee is, thank God, not as bad as the saltfish. It is found at market places (at appropriate times) for differing prices from $100- $150 per dozen. But let’s be real, if you know and love ackee then you know that one dozen isn’t enough to serve and feed a family so top it up to 2 dozens at $300.
Minimum wage in Jamaica is still wobbling at a measly $5600 per 40-hour week despite the continuous increase in the cost of living. Over the past year there has been a 20 per cent increase in bus fares and JPS applied to the Utilities of regulation for a 21 per cent increase in electricity charges. I know we have all been subjected to the woes of JPS, one way or another, but that is an entirely different story for a different time.
Unemployment rate in Jamaica is quite depressing as well. Taking into account the rate of unemployment in Jamaica in January 2012 and January 2015, it is proof that the economy remains stagnant and is worsening. In 2013 Unemployment shot up to a whopping 16.3 per cent and the lowest it has been over this period is 3.2% less at 13.1% in July 2012, still not an attractive figure. In January 2015 unemployment rate was 14.2% which is more than what it was during the world recession.
According to the Jamaica Survey of Living Conditions 2009, the population living in poverty decreased from 28.$% in 1990 to 9.9% in 2007 (standing ovation for this effort), however it then began to increase as it was 12.3% in 2008 and rose to 16.5% a year later in 2009. These figures should have you close to tears if you are a proud Jamaican.
So let us do an assessment, a Jamaican living on minimum wage earns an average $22,400 per month, not bad for someone who lives alone in a house willed to them but we all know that for someone with 2 or three kids, this is just a drop in the bucket.
With the increase in bus fares, one will pay an average $8000 per month for bus fare, which leaves you with only $14,400. Fair enough until you have to buy food. The average grocery bill for someone living alone will amount to about $2500 per week ( if the curb the cravings), this is amounts to $10,000 per month and leaves you with only $4,400 if you swallow your pride and prepare lunch from your home.
Now if you know any of the horrifying stories about JPS you will know that about $3000 of the remaining $4,400 has to be tucked away safely for your electricity bill. Now you have $1,400 in hand (round of applause to you), but let us assume that you are normal and have a cellphone and top up your phone only 4 times per month at $600 (lol) so that you are left with $800 in hand for emergency measures; in case you have a family emergency and have to make an extra trip for the month.
An entire month’s pay is done, and you still haven’t had your ackee and saltfish because, be honest, while doing your weekly shopping you opted for longer lasting goods at cheaper prices such as a few canned mackerels or sardines because you thought it very hard to buy a pound of sailfish for $450 and you have no money left for ackee.
But because this doesn’t define us we are still a proud nation.
Now that we have done this assessment, what are your thoughts? Can Jamaicans really afford our own national dish?