Last November I used nutmeg to spice up a pumpkin pie and then I put it away on the back of the shelf where it would sit until next year. This February I traveled to Grenada with PubHealth616. Now, everything has changed.
Nutmeg is everywhere in Grenada. You can buy it from the colorful stalls in the market. You can taste it in the jams, meats, coladas, and chocolate, and you can find it on the flag, coins and stamps of the island. Nutmeg is a proud symbol of Grenada.
On our first day in Grenada, we were fortunate to take a tour of the island. For an island only 12 miles wide and 21 miles long, we traveled all day along the winding roads in and out of cities and rural areas. For me, the boundary between housing and rainforest seemed to intertwine around the island. I learned that the majority of the population lives in rural areas with most people working as farmers either full or part-time. It used to be that many people farmed nutmeg trees. However, a series of natural disasters decimated the nutmeg sector.
Nutmeg trees first arrived on the island from Indonesia in 1843. It became “black gold” on the island, and Grenada quickly became the go-to place for high quality nutmeg, exporting a quarter of the world’s supply. I thought that nutmeg was only an ingredient for cooking, but I was wrong. Countries buy up nutmeg and mace, the red protective coating around nutmeg, for meat preservation, sausage making, perfumes, spice, and hundreds of other products.
In 2004, Hurricane Ivan hit the island. In 2005 Hurricane Emily destroyed 90% of the nutmeg trees. By 2008, the damage had been done and nutmeg export from Grenada took a serious hit.
The people hurt most were the 30,000 Grenadians who depend on nutmeg for their economic livelihood. This includes farmers, employees on estates and stations, food processors, vendors, tourism, etc.
However, as I said before, nutmeg is everywhere in Grenada. Everyday I found some way to incorporate nutmeg into my life. The country has not given up on their proud symbol. The government created a Nutmeg Revitalization Strategy to restore production by 2018. There are still a lot of challenges. The majority of current farmers are in their 60s, younger generations are not as incentivized to become farmers, and you can never completely forget about extreme weather.
As I carried my bag of Nutmeg and Nutmeg chocolate back to Michigan, I had a delicious bag of food I plan to hoard for as long as possible and a new appreciation for the resilience of the Grenadian culture. The spice island is an apt name for the country. Spices have made up so much of the history, economy, livelihood, and I hope the future of Grenada.
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