Other people dream in colour. I dream in curry. Curry goat, Jamaican style; curry chicken with aloo; curry prawns and rice Guyanese style; curry conch roti from Patraj. Some nights, curry fish and basmati rice, Goan style. In the middle of the day, the stew cravings come: stew lamb; stew chicken; stew pork; stew oxtail, pressure-cooked to melting perfection, courtesy that enemy of every West Indian woman’s waistline, a mother with a ‘sweet hand’. As I type this with one hand, I am desperately scooping pawpaw into my mouth with the other, lest I eat the laptop.
You see, I have decided to become a vegan. In Trinidad. I know, I’ve really lost it this time. Trying to be vegetarian in this carnivorous country is hard enough, but being vegan is torture. No meat, no animal products, not even milk. Not even a slice of pizza with just olives and pineapple, because the cheddar cheese is made with animal rennet. This is, without a doubt, the most difficult, challenging, mind-bending sufferation I have ever endured in my entire life. Worse, I am staying in my mother’s house. Luckily she’s not at home today so I can think straight. Usually, if she’s in, I lock myself in my room and stuff towels under the door so I don’t inhale the aroma of a perfectly cooked pigeon peas and chicken pelau or tender, tangy roast beef.
It was hard enough to be vegan in Jamaica, where all manner of pork and patty called out from every other restaurant, fast-food outlet and street stall. Plus there was Juici’s lobster patty and the ubiquitous red pea soup with pigtail. You have no idea what heartache is until you have walked away, empty-handed, from a box of shrimp patties, trust me. But why am I torturing myself? Vanity. Simple. Straightforward. I am vain. I want to look good. I realise that good-looking people get further in life. I’m only half-joking. Motherhood is wonderful but it takes a toll on the body, to put it mildly. And well, 40 is not as far away as it used to be. Having weighed 211 pounds just before delivery, I am now an advocate for either having children in your 20s or not having them at all. It was hell to lose the 65 pounds I put on while pregnant. (My son weighed less than eight pounds.)
So, there I was in Jamaica, waddling around with baby fat four years later, and I thought, well, now’s a really good time to go ital. Although a box of food was relatively cheap, a large box of curry goat and white rice with salad costs Ja$380 ($27), I felt sluggish afterwards and I knew my days of eating meat had to come to an end. Enough friends and colleagues have died from cancer or have had biopsies done for me to realise that something is killing us at a rate that’s catastrophic. Every study tells us to eat less meat, more veggies and fruits, avoid processed food…we know the drill.
Think pink, live green
Breastcancer.org encourages women to, Think Pink, Live Green. The column, written by Dr Marisa Weiss, the founder and president of Breastcancer.org, which is used as an online resource for breast-cancer information, is a breast-cancer oncologist with more than 20 years of active practice. Think Pink, Live Green is a way of living that aims to help women reduce their risk of breast cancer or the disease coming back in survivors. It’s also a way for women living with advanced disease to make the healthiest choices possible. In one of her columns, Eating Fresh, Eating Locally, Weiss writes, “Dietitians suggest eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables (more than five cups per day) to make your body the healthiest it can be. Eating local, organic produce can help your body and the environment.”
I also read about a Jamaican man who has had cancer twice and beaten it both times by switching to a raw-food diet. The theory is that cooking food destroys the enzymes in them, basically killing all the ‘live’ nutrients. One raw-food dude, whom I have to confess to believing, actually recommends 70 per cent of your diet be fruits, 20 per cent veggies and the last ten per cent nuts and whole grains. I like this philosophy because it’s what the first humans ate, and I don’t think our bodies have evolved enough since then to deal with all the meat we now consume, and the additives and preservatives that are now put in processed foods. Being a raw foodie works out well for everybody–the planet, the animals, the people. I decided to start experimenting with it. Jamaica has so many lovely, delicious fruits in abundance all year-round that it’s almost a sin not to become a fruitarian. A dozen large purple caimite sells for Ja$120 ($8.75) in downtown Coronation Market. I would splurge on the legendary East Indian mangoes, which cost Ja$500 ($36) uptown. It is a bit pricey compared to the others, but the East Indian mango is food from the gods. The thing tastes like ice cream. I could literally walk out of my flat in New Kingston and buy a bag of East Indians from the vendor who worked our street. An old man sold nuts–salt and fresh–at the top of the street. Just down Trafalgar Road, outside John R Wong’s supermarket, another vendor set up his cart every day with coconuts, pineapples, sapodillas, sugar cane and caimite. It was the easiest thing to be a raw foodie in Jamaica. I lost 25 pounds in two months. I felt lighter and healthier. I slept for fewer hours and had more energy. I had discovered the secret of eternal youth, it seemed!
Back to T&T
Then I came home. If you can find a decent mango to buy in Trinidad these days, you real lucky. I want to be patriotic and eco-friendly and buy local produce, but it’s easier to find Pringle’s potato chips than a decent pawpaw in the supermarket. I have to make do with red grapes (not sure what’s happening with black grapes but there’s a shortage), black olives (also low in supplies), pawpaws and some rather disgruntled-looking mangoes pretending to be Julies. I try not to think about the stories I’ve heard about the gallons of pesticide and fertiliser that local farmers douse their crops with. I confess to actually feel safer eating romaine lettuce from foreign. And when was the last time you see a caimite? You have to go Toco to find things like cashew and fat pork, which are the prefect raw foodie’s snack. After a week or so of eating only grapes and salads, I conceded defeat. Trying to stick to raw food alone was the most hellish experience ever. So I am now attempting veganism. Most days I can get by with a combination of salad, fruits and smoothies, plus some peanuts, almonds and cashews. But even this is fraught with danger, the salad starts off healthy enough with tomato, lettuce and cucumber. But then it looks so mournful and unappetising, I drown it in ranch dressing. And a few blocks of feta cheese. Before you know it, the damn salad has more calories than a doubles!
I don’t go out to eat, which is not a bad thing when you see how pissed-off some fast-food workers look. You hope they’re not taking out their vexation with the boss on your two-piece with fries. I avoid all malls, food courts, restaurants and doubles vendors. Although an entire industry has sprung up around veganism that replaces all the animal products with vegetarian alternatives, I can’t bring myself to buy into it. There are franks, veggie burgers, chicken-free chicken patties, milk made from soy, almond and rice, non-dairy ice creams, chips, dips, cookies, candies, frozen pies and patties. Maybe it’s my raw food puritanism, but I don’t trust the processed fake chicken any more than the real one. My mother, in her mercy, has turned her “sweet hand” to roasting baigan with garlic and then sautéing it with olive oil and a dash of salt, or steaming down bhaji into a callaloo with onions. And I keep perusing the dozens of vegan recipes online, like couscous stuffed bell peppers, veggie fajitas, Mexican lasagna casserole and tofu and broccoli stir fry, hoping to find a vegan replacement for curry goat and jerk pork.