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Food For Thought: Why Bahamian Fruit
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Posted by:Jan 2nd 2008, 11:33:17 am
Fig Tree News TeamThe Street Vendor: Chief Supplier of Local Fruits
By Mr. Godfrey Eneas

One of the features of life in tropical countries like The Bahamas and other parts of the Caribbean is the sale of in-season tropical fruits by road-side or street vendors. During the summer months, it is a common occurrence to be approached by hawkers on the various streets of Nassau to buy tamarind, hog plums, genips, scarlet plums, jujus, sapodillas, mangoes, coco plums, guavas, sugar apples, coconuts, sugar bananas, avocado pears, sea grapes and during the winter months, an assortment of citrus (oranges, tangerines and grapefruits).

Generally, the large supermarket chains do not carry the tropical fruits, which on the international market are called exotic fruits. In the markets of Europe, the United States, Canada and even Japan, exotic fruits are sold to the various ethnic groups that make immigrant populations from Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa and the Pacific Islands.

Also, many European, Canadians and Americans have developed a taste for these exotic fruits as a result of visiting the various countries as tourists or living abroad on work assignments from multi-national corporations or international agencies like the World Bank, Food and Agriculture Organization and other United Nations bodies.

However, colonialism played a big role in altering our consumption pattern of our native fresh fruits and even processed food as our food supply requirements were met by imports from the fields and factories of the colonial masters. This led to the development of a taste for grapes, apples and the like. That is why it is virtually impossible to purchase certain exotic fruits in a local supermarket and roadside vendors have become the sole suppliers.

Organically Grown

Most exotic fruits are grown “wild” or organically, that is without commercial fertilizers. This means that most of our common tropical or exotic fruits are some of the healthiest fruits grown.

A prime example is the guava. The guava is considered the healthiest fruit when compared to any other fruit. Guava production is essentially a backyard activity where most guavas are grown in a wild state.

Guavas have no fat, are high in vitamin C, are an excellent source of vitamins A, B1, B2 and B6, high in fiber and a good source of natural sugar and protein. Despite it being a healthy food, the main line food stores do not carry it as a regular produce item.

Temperate Zone Fruits

During the 60’s, the Forbes Burnham government in Guyana banned the importation of grapes, apples and other fruits from countries in the temperate zone. The government was severely criticized for this policy. The Burnham government’s reasoning for the policy was that it wanted the Guyanese people to utilize local tropically grown fruits, in essence, the government sought to erase years of brain washing by its colonial masters that the only healthy fruits came from Europe, the US and Canada.

Despite some opposition, there was a burst of creativity in the Guyanese food industry as housewives, food technologists, food processors and cottage industry people developed a range of products from its indigenous fruit sector. People ate healthier and the country saved tremendous amounts in foreign exchange.

Bahamian Grown Fruits

Local foods provide a powerhouse of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients good for the body and soul. The next time you go shopping, reach for Bahamian grown produce because they are the best.

In our quest for healthier eating choices we are encouraged to eat foods with less fat and sodium, more fiber, more complex carbohydrates and lower in calories. The foods that are most promoted are usually imported since more is known about them than about our local foods. We may therefore seek out whole grain cereals and breads, fruits such as the American apple, plum and grapes and vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower and exclude from our diets, the range of healthy fruits which are grown throughout this archipelago.

American Apple vs. Guava

Who has not heard the adage, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away?” This is probably because the American apple has fiber to facilitate stomach health and rid the body of waste. But do you know that one guava fruit has four times the amount of fiber, slightly more potassium and 19 times the amount of vitamin C as an American apple? Likewise, it would take 15 American apples to supply the vitamin C content of only one West Indian cherry. In comparison to a whole bunch of grapes, one guava has 25 times more vitamin C, four times more fiber and about the same potassium.

Cranberry Juice vs. Coconut Juice

Cranberry juice has become very popular because of its benefit to bladder health. But have you thought that similar benefits could be had from coconut water at less than half the calories and with appreciably more potassium? A glass of cranberry juice will provide 150 to 200 calories while the same glass of coconut water contains only 50 calories while giving 400mg potassium compared to the 60mg for cranberry juice.

For those concerned about the sodium content of coconut water, be assured that a single glass will provide only 60mg sodium compared to the 700mg in a V8 canned vegetable juice. Also, coconut water has no fat. The fat of the coconut resides in the jelly and will thus be found in coconut milk, but there is no cholesterol since the coconut is of plant origin and cholesterol is found, only in foods of animal origin.

This means that butter will have cholesterol but coconut milk, like the vegetable margarines, is free of cholesterol. Moreover, the traditional way of cooking with coconut milk for flavour is better than using margarine which is often substituted in porridge, rice and peas and soups. A tablespoon of coconut milk has only 38 calories and 4g of fat compared to 111 calories in the same amount of margarine and 11.5g fat. Also, the fat of coconut is healthier for the body than margarine fats.

Street Fruit Vendors

The fruits vendors on our streets play a very important role in the marketing of locally grown fruits. In many instances, street vendors are the channels through which many of our locally grown fruits can be purchased.

Many backyard and hobby gardeners keep street vendors supplied with fruits depending on the season. For some, the street vendor offers an outlet for many exotic fruits which will ordinarily never get to the market. Whether it is realized or not, street vendors act as conduits in the food chain for organically grown, fresh and nutritious fruits and provide their growers with a dependable source of income.

When the Market Range was in existence, fruit vendors were more or less confined to one location. The destruction of the market led to a proliferation of street fruit vendors throughout Nassau. It is the street fruit vendor nevertheless, who is keeping the availability of our exotic fruits on the market, without them, this aspect of our production system would be lost because the main stream supermarkets have geared their produce departments to grapes, apples and other temperate zone fruits.

Many of these street vendors supplement their fruit inventory with temperate zone fruits. This is because they run a business and have to have products to sell throughout the year and not just seasonally when local exotic fruits come on the market.

Street fruit vendors are legitimate agribusiness outlets for our exotic fruits. Their role is an integral part of the indigenous fruit distribution network. Another interesting fact is that females dominate this type of agribusiness trade in The Bahamas.

In some countries these agribusiness women are classified as part of the informal economy. In my opinion, they are important elements in the fresh fruit distribution system of local exotic fruits. Without them, the marketing of exotic fruits is endangered and these fruits could be lost to our diet.

Exotic fruits are relevant to our food production system and greater emphasis needs to be given to the cultivation of these fruits because they are a source of inexpensive, fresh and nutritious food and the street fruit vendor is the chief tool in supplying this product to us.

Godfrey Eneas, Bahama Journal

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