Every conversation I have about food always ends up with my friends giving me looks that are a cross between deep consternation and serious concern. Given the way Jamaicans (and indeed, most humans) feel about their food, this probably can’t be helped. But sometimes I wish it would go a little differently.
“Robyn you don’t eat real food!” they’ll argue hotly.
“I do too!” I’ll shoot back.
“Popcorn is not real food,” will be their witty comeback.
I will scoff and argue that of course I don’t only eat popcorn. I’m not a bird for goodness’ sake. Which of course begs the question,
“What else do you eat then?”
in an entirely too demanding fashion for my tastes.
“I eat pasta and potatoes (mashed, preferably) and spaghetti and yam and bananas and dumplings (I love boiled dumplings).”
And they’ll start to waver in their conviction that I eat like a desperate model, which is when I throw in:
“But I don’t like the way people cook food.”
“What?” Their faces are a kind of cross between bewilderment and frustration. No one can ever quite figure out what’s going on in my head, least of all me.
“I like the way Mummy cooks, and Grandma sometimes…”
At which point one friend will usually demand, “What’s so special about their cooking?” which, come on, doesn’t even merit a reply.
And the other friend will impatiently inform me that I’m about to start boarding on campus, so I should probably start trying to prepare my own food. Which of course merits a scoff. My idea of cooking is making fabulous no-effort hors d’ouevres. And chocolate cake in a microwave. I fully intend to go over to everyone’s place for a meal at least every day I’m on hall.
Really though, I’m not as insanely picky about food as you might (and my friends certainly) think. My best friend actually says I eat a lot (
and she wants my body) and this girl’s known me nearly half my life. I think the difference is just the way people approach food here.
(It will be helpful in the following discussion if you remember that I’ve lived in Jamaica all my life and have only been abroad once).
Jamaicans love food. Jamaicans love strong food. Rich, hearty meals are kind of a staple. Rice? Whole heap a dat. Chicken? Two breast, please. Nuff nuff gravy. Vegetables? Wha dat? is pretty much the average serving you find here. Rice and peas are our staple (even though from primary school, everybody hearing how ackee and saltfish is our national dish. Nutten nuh go so. Ask smaddy what dem get for dinner Sunday night? Rice and peas and chicken. What dem eat for lunch? Rice and peas and chicken. We only eat ackee and saltfish on Independence Day when ackee in season). It’s a distinctly Caribbean thing. But I. Don’t. Like. It.
In fact, it’s taken me years to figure out that I’m not a compulsive anorexic, I just don’t like that kind of food, and it’s taken me even longer to figure out that there’s food out there I do like. Namely, any carbohydrate that isn’t rice. Any meat that isn’t chicken (or at least chicken cooked in an unusual way). And lots and lots of vegetables. Since there isn’t much call for that kind of fare here (and I can’t imagine people buying much of that, much less cooking it) I usually go without. Or go with much less that everyone else eats because (surprise, surprise) I hate wasting food.
All my mother’s (and grandmother’s and aunt’s) speeches about starving children in Africa (this cannot just be a Jamaican thing) has instilled in me a horror of throwing food away. I infinitely prefer giving leftovers to my dogs that just chucking them in the bin, but I’m not always around the dogs when I have leftovers. Which has resulted in my habit of taking less food so that it’s easier to finish.
See? I’m not starving myself; I’m thinking about the children in Africa. (And my boyfriend, who eats twice as much as I do anyway).