With all the talk about the healthcare system, and the urgent need to reform it, the New York Times published a very interesting Op-Ed article, "Big Food vs. Big Insurance." Several weeks ago, Time Magazine also talked about the "The Real Cost of Cheap Food." During tough economic times, cheap food seems to be a more attractive choice for most people, despite the unhealthy consequences. Healthcare reform is important, but so are the choices we make as consumers when we head to the supermarket. Americans are seeing their waistlines gradually expand, which increases the likelihood of a growing number of diabetics, and other health problems. The fact in which a bag of potato chips is a lot cheaper than a pound of apples, doesn't help motivate people to eat healthier though. Let's not even go into the price of conventional vs. organic foods, especially here on the island.
In Puerto Rico, the healthcare system (which I will talk about in another blog entry) is also in tatters, and the obesity rate is higher than that on the mainland U.S. Eating healthy is often pushed to the backburner, especially since vegetables and fruits are so expensive on the island, which imports over 80% of its food, the majority coming from the U.S. In the supermarkets, I've seen more "del país" stickers (meaning it's from the island) on meat than on fruit and vegetables. Personally, I find Costco to be the best and most economical place to buy organic products here in Puerto Rico. Unfortunately, Whole Foods doesn't exist here yet (and I don't know if it ever will). However, in San Juan, Fresh Mart is the closest alternative. There are perhaps a handful of smaller health food stores.
The best place to buy locally grown food in Puerto Rico would be your local plaza del mercado, like the one in Rio Piedras. Being that it's a tropical island, many would assume Puerto Rico produces most of the fruit and vegetables it consumes. Sadly, that's just not the case. I'm looking through a couple of flyers from some of the local supermarkets here and I see iceberg lettuce (from California), cassava (from Costa Rica), grapes (also from California) and watermelon (from either the U.S or Puerto Rico, finally!). Out of all the produce which we eat at home, I'd say bananas and papayas are the only fruit which are locally grown. Although I've bought lettuce "del país," I have to admit it didn't look too appetizing and it didn't taste great either. Needless to say, I haven't repeated my purchase but I haven't seen it in the supermarkets again either.