Saturday, September 12, 2009

Eating Local & Organic Food

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.


Morgan said...

My boyfriend and I are also on a quest to find/eat local or organic food here in Puerto Rico. We are living in Rio Piedras, as I am a graduate student in Ecology/Biology at the UPR. It is pretty funny that the local 'farmers market' in el mercado de Río Piedras is mostly imported foods. However every other sunday in the Placita Roosevelt there is a very small local/organic foods farmers market. Although it is very small, there are products for sale, and I think it is important to support all of those farmers when/if we can.

We too have taken to buying some of our produce from Costco. (It is hard to turn down the pound or organic baby lettuce for $6, when broccoli that is non-local non-organic in the store costs the same) We are also involved in trying to help out with another farm in Guavate that hopefully will eventually be producing some local veggies, as well as trying to help out a project near Ciales that is hoping to combine some sort of eco resort with summer camps that teach kids about the importance of being outside, and locally grown foods.

It seems like there are a lot of People in Puerto Rico that are interested in progressive issues like where there food comes from....and I have hope that at some point we will reach a critical mass where more local/organic products become available.

adriana said...

Hi Morgan,

Thanks so much for your comment. It is sad how Puerto Rico imports nearly all its food. I have also gone to the organic market at Placita Roosevelt. Unfortunately, the array of produce they had was quite disappointing.

Wonderful to hear that you guys are lending a helping hand to promote organic farming and environmental awareness on the island! Keep it up! :)

Anonymous said...

The selection of produce at the market in Placita Roosevelt varies depending on the climate. I will urge you to keep visiting.

Also, you can try
to order local and ecological produce.

Anonymous said...

It's mind boggling that people on an island with such an ideal climate, good rainfall, that can grow almost all crops (tropical and temperate) from all over the world has such an issue with finding local organic food. Here in the mainland we shell out 2$ plus for coconut water which in PR just hang for free off trees all year if you decide to plant one or pick one. Same goes for mangoes, breadfruit, plantains,... Im nuts about gardening and grow a large amount of vegetables (tomatoes,peppers,potatoes,pumpkins,corn,sweetpotatoes,lettuce,basil...)in a small space but am limited by a short growing season. Its my dream to be able to grow avocadoes, breadfruit,pineapples, sweetpotatoes,papayas,even rice, etc...year round like you can in PR.
Its really not that hard, just get your hands dirty...make some compost. Take advantage of it people. PR is like the Garden of Eden.