Remember the History

The PHAST students have been immersed in a community and culture that has developed over centuries, from the first Amerindian peoples – the Arawaks and Caribs – to the European colonizers – first the French and then later the British- to the African slaves brought not by choice, to the East Indians who were seeking better opportunities and signed long indentured contracts.

The people and history that have melded and merged on the island has created a unique culture and community. The coup d’état that lead to the execution of Mr. Bishop and the U.S. invasion is a underlying presence. The stories of hurricanes Ivan (2004) and his girlfriend Emily (2005) are interwoven into the fabric of the community. We cannot forget that this history has created the context for which we entered. 

What does history have to do with public health? I would argue quite a lot. Just as an example, the breadfruit plant that was brought to Grenada from the south Pacific was an important source of cheap food for slave owners. Breadfruit is almost like a potato, it is starchy, hearty and plentiful. Breadfruit is a major part of the national dish – oil down (http://www.gov.gd/articles/grenada_oil_down.html).

Breadfruit is omnipresent in dishes on the island. While the cheap starchy food was excellent for slaves who endured long arduous work planting and harvesting difficult crops such as indigo and sugar cane, the same type of work that might have burned those calories are no longer a major part of the environment. It might be easy for public health (and even easier for outsiders) to advocate for healthier eating that would require reducing the amount of breadfruit in the diet, however, that might not go over so easily.There is a cultural resonance for breadfruit that has to be respected.

Understanding the historical context in which the food has developed on the island gives a more refined perspective to understand ways in which to consider a healthier Grenadian diet.  As an outsider, I would never have understood why the national dish was oil-down or why breadfruit is such a staple in the diet without learning about its history on the island.

As our world has become more connected and more attention is given to the global context, the history of place becomes even more relevant for public health practitioners to consider in factors for improving community health.

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