One of the joys of traveling is exploring local foods. Channeling our inner Anthony Bourdains and sampling local dishes is often one of the most interesting – and fun – parts of learning about a place’s culture and history.
Culinarily and culturally, Grenada’s claim to fame is clear through its nickname, “The Spice Island.” Both the Grenadian national flag and the 20-dollar Eastern Caribbean note bear a drawing of a nutmeg. On an island tour last weekend, our guide took us to a local spice factory, where we saw pallets of cloves drying in the sun and smelled fresh bay leaves. Agriculture and the spice trade are a critical part of the island’s economy.
At the same time, food is a great example of how the lines between what’s “local” and what’s “global” are becoming increasingly blurred. Grenada is no exception.
On that same tour, our guide pointed out that most of the island is not conducive to types of agriculture that we might be used to. As we wound our way through narrow mountain roads, he noted that there’s very little flat land on which to grow wheat or raise cattle. Because of the hills, what is grown locally, including vegetables and the trees that bear the island’s spices, requires intense manual labor to harvest. So all wheat products, such as flour, are imported, as are most dairy products.
Indeed, as reported by NPR this week, the globalization of the world’s diets is increasing, as more of the world becomes more dependent on fewer crops. Wheat in particular is turning into a “mega-crop”, becoming a global commodity.
From what I’ve seen, the globalization of food in Grenada is alive and well, not the least because two of its other key industries, tourism and medical education, involve bringing thousands of international visitors and students into its borders every year. We’re staying near St. George’s University, where over 80% of the student population is international, and the food options tend toward burgers, sandwiches, and gyros. The breakfast at our hotel offers a variety of bread products, pastries, New Zealand butter, cereal, and yogurt. Macaroni and cheese and potato salad are common side dishes.
Luckily, we’ve had our share of opportunities to try truly local fare as well – including “oildown” (a national stew featuring breadfruit, a starchy fruit), nutmeg jelly, tropical fruits, plenty of fresh fish, and the occasional rum punch (enjoyed responsibly, of course).
As we explore our food options, it’s an interesting exercise to think about what’s “local” and what’s “global”. As a public health student, it’s also an important consideration when thinking about issues of nutrition, such as access to healthy fruits and vegetables, and the vulnerability of the world’s mega-crops to climate change and disease. But most often, food and public health are both great examples of how nothing is truly local and nothing is truly global – everything is a little bit of both.