Daily Observer (Jamaica)

Street food to street mess

Jamaica’s sanitation crisis exposed


WHO never grew up as a Jamaican eating street food? From as far back as I can remember there was never a moment in my lifetime when I never stopped to buy something on the roadside.

Whether it was a coconut to drink, roast yam and salt fish, boil’ corn, soup, shrimp in Middle Quarters, or good old pan chicken or jerk pork wrapped in brown paper, street food is a part of my upbringing experience and an ingrained part of my ‘Jamaicanes­s’.

I am not unique in this experience. Many Jamaicans, especially those living abroad, have fond memories and look forward when they visit to stopping by some of their spots and speaking to the vendors who have become a mainstay in our lives over the years.

Now, street food is everywhere, from the round robins to outside the ‘Dance’, to ‘open car back rush hour box lunch. And do not forget the fruit man selling at traffic light fruits and large pots of breakfast porridge.

Truthfully, I still enjoy stopping by the roadside to buy something to eat. Mind you, I don’t just stop anywhere; I have to know you, see how you handle the food, and, most importantl­y, I have to see that there is a wash station with soap close by and proper hygienic amenities or else ‘mi nah eat from yuh’.

With what surfaced last week in the news, my whole world regarding roadside eating is upside down. If you don’t know, or haven’t seen it, a video circulated last week of a food vendor at one of our most popular Kingston roadside food spots standing up behind her stall, clothes to her knees, and her hand (with tissue) to wipe her bottom after she clearly relieved herself. We don’t see if she washes her hands after. However, based on the ease of her body language, it seemed it was natural and not a new occurrence for her.

I couldn’t watch it. The whole thing was too disgusting and left me with images that made me nauseous. How and why would this lady do that, knowing she was handling and serving food to the public?

Obviously someone filmed the video to highlight the bad sanitary practices of some people we purchase our street food from. Or could it have been an attempt to highlight the bad conditions many of our street vendors have to endure while trying to make a living?

Since then, officials from the Ministry of Health have shut down stalls operated by crab vendors at Heroes’ Circle in Kingston, popularly known as Crab Circle. The Kingston and St Andrew Public Health Department ordered the closure.

The closure has negatively affected several other vendors from the Fletcher’s Land and downtown communitie­s.

Just recently, a public-private collaborat­ion — involving J Wray & Nephew, Ministry of Local Government and Community Developmen­t, and the Kingston and St Andrew Municipal Corporatio­n — produced the renovation of Crab Circle. Is it that no bathroom facilities came with the building of stalls and renovation of the area? That seems a little strange if that were the case.

Close to 35 per cent of the Jamaican economy is informal, and quite a few individual­s operating within it operate shops and stalls while others serve street food.

Food establishm­ents in Jamaica require the following:

(1) a health certificat­e from the Ministry of Health before opening, and it is subjected to regular visits and inspection by the ministry,

(2) bathroom facilities for the staff, (3) hand-washing stations with a prescribed distance from the handling of the food, and

(4) food handlers’ permits for the respective staff.

While it may be impractica­l to insist on these standards for street vendors, there ought to be minimum standard operating procedures, requiremen­ts, and some form of registrati­on for them.

I recognise that administer­ing and policing these regulation­s will not be easy, but the health and well-being of our citizenry must never be compromise­d.

We must acknowledg­e that certain spots have practical and sentimenta­l value for purveying street food. At least in these areas, the Government must provide the vendors and customers with adequate infrastruc­tural convenienc­es, including solar lighting to facilitate night-time vending.

When we improve our locations it redounds to the benefit of everyone, as more customers will be attracted because they have peace of mind that the food is not only tasty, but hygienic.

Too often, Jamaica falls victim to our proverbial ‘nine-day wonders’, with all talk and no action.

In the same way corporate Jamaica brands places like Faith’s Pen, Yam Park, and Crab Circle, many more roadside eateries need better infrastruc­ture. The public may not be aware that every organisati­on with a visible billboard or sign on our roads and other public spaces must pay a fee to our local government set-up through parish municipal corporatio­ns. They need permission to erect the signs, and must pay the annual associated fees.

Similarly, branding and product exclusivit­y could be created for street vending spaces where the entity funding the infrastruc­ture is given a waiver of signage fees for a period by the various municipal corporatio­ns.

I love my Jamaican food. There is an authentici­ty to eating it on the roadside with other people.

Watching that lady in such a vulnerable position in her food stall is a wake-up call that something stinks in Jamaica.

Yet, rather than taking the big stick approach to use one person to condemn and destroy the livelihood of thousands of Jamaicans, let us, instead, be proactive and solution-oriented.

We need a win-win approach towards giving our people better facilities, healthy standards, dignity, and improved viability for their ultimate success. We also need ongoing training to uplift those who want to better their circumstan­ce but need the opportunit­ies and short courses to assist in doing so.

Let us use the Crab Circle incident as a call to action to build up our people rather than condemn them. Let us find that lady and others who may need some mentorship to better themselves, and let us keep our roadside street food culture alive and well.

 ?? (Photo: Garfield Robinson) ?? Ministry of Health, through the Public Helath Department, has closed Crab Circle.
(Photo: Garfield Robinson) Ministry of Health, through the Public Helath Department, has closed Crab Circle.
 ?? ?? Lisa Hanna is Member of Parliament for St Ann South Eastern, People’s National Party spokespers­on on foreign affairs and foreign trade, and a former Cabinet member.
Lisa Hanna is Member of Parliament for St Ann South Eastern, People’s National Party spokespers­on on foreign affairs and foreign trade, and a former Cabinet member.

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