Yes, We Have No Bananas

A few days ago, I returned from a family vacation, which was spent on an island off Puerto Rico. A magical, idyllic place is this island, with numerous coral reefs, affording the snorkeler with views of turtles, sting rays, and tropical fish. Of course, when one dreams of such an island, they probably assume there exists a cornucopia of tropical fruit growing natively on the land. At least, that’s what I thought when I first visited the island a few years ago. Boy, was I sadly disappointed to learn that not only does the island not have any edible delicacies growing within its shores, there aren’t any vegetables or fresh fruit available to its inhabitants, except for an occasional tangerine or apple imported from the U.S. There are three supermarkets on the island, which basically are the equivalent to gas station mini marts! All the island’s natives are forced to take a ferry, 1 1/2 hours each way, to the main island of Puerto Rico to do their major grocery stopping, or wait for the vegetable truck which may, or may not, show up Friday mornings.

Having spent a good deal of time in the Greek isles, where seafood is plentiful on every tavern’s menu, I found it strikingly strange that the Puerto Rican island we were visiting did not offer much regarding seafood. After speaking with a few people we met on our vacation, there exist only a couple of spear gun fishermen on the island. So you can imagine, there isn’t much fresh seafood to go around. If there was any fresh fish on a restaurant’s menu, it was usually fried whole! Most of the entire native population consumes rice, beans, plantains, chicken, pork, and / or beef on a daily basis, all of which are imported (except for the occasional chicken) and are commonly served fried.

This made me stop and think how fortunate my family truly is. At the tips of my fingers, I have some of the very best food markets available. I can buy organic produce, meats, and dairy, as well as shop locally with fabulous farmer’s markets scattered throughout my city’s neighborhoods. It’s easy to ignore problems when they’re not sitting directly in your line of view. Living in New York City, I’m not faced with the problems of obesity on a daily basis, despite the staggering statistic that currently 1/3 of the earth’s population is obese. That’s right, I said 1/3! Sadly, many of the wonderful natives we have met and befriended over the years suffer from obesity. And, of course, together with obesity, there’s the number one disease that our population is faced with today: diabetes. It’s hard to tell someone to change their diet when there are truly no other options available to them.

Many people are forced to choose low quality food due to economic situations. Unfortunately, it’s less expensive for someone to buy a highly-processed meal at McDonald’s than it is to buy fresh fruit and vegetables. But there are those of us out there with the economic means and opportunities to make the better choice. So the next time you visit your supermarket, be grateful for the simple things in life, like grape tomatoes, a leafy head of lettuce, or….. a banana. Someone living in “paradise” might not be so lucky.

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