The Case of the Lettuce Disappearance
About a week ago, lettuce—of all things— caught the attention of our local media houses and the headlines were inexcusable: “Massy Stores Pull Romaine Lettuce From Shelves”. The article indicated that the supermarket chain had to remove every single specimen of romaine lettuce on its shelves after receiving an alert from the United States Centre for Disease Control that advised against consuming imported romaine lettuce. It was reported that there was an outbreak of E. coli infections linked to romaine lettuce in the United States and Canada. Additional sources revealed that the supermarket chain had to remove this item in 17 supermarkets across four countries.
I wonder if we need an actual E. coli outbreak in Saint Lucia for us to realize the importance of importsubstitution and the drawbacks of our increasing dependence on foods from outside, particularly when many of these items can be grown locally. This is not the first time that I have written about importsubstitution, nor will it be the last (if we continue in this downward trend). But if our over $120 million import bill in fruits and vegetables doesn’t sway the public or private-sector from eating foreign foods, then maybe a health crisis will.
It’s time that Saint Lucians aim to be on the forefront of innovation instead of the brink of disaster, and invest in measures to strengthen the commercialization of fruits and vegetables by our local farmers. Now many may take the easy way out and blame the supermarket chain for their over-reliance on imported foods, but it also starts at the bottom of the food chain. While many of us are quick to criticize and parade around saying, “Buy Loca,l” how many of us actually practise what we preach? Furthermore, how much investment has gone into supporting the growing number of hydroponic lettuce farmers in Saint Lucia?
Let’s face it, we are all to blame in this latest disaster of Saint Lucia’s food insecurity. In many ways it’s disheartening and even embarrassing that an island whose former economic driver was agriculture, now feeds off imported produce. The question remains: What if we did have an E. coli outbreak? The effects of a disease like this could easily wipe out a tiny nation, especially given the fact that we do not have the appropriate healthcare facilities to tackle an outbreak. All I can say is think before you eat and buy local. Not to sound dramatic but, at this point, it could be the difference between life and death.
Will it take a food-related outbreak for us to realize the benefits of import-substitution?