Sunday, June 14, 2009

Food

Refreshing and cool">Besides being known as a stunning Caribbean diving location and tax haven, the Cayman Islands are also said to be a very expensive place to live. With regard to one aspect - groceries - the short answer to this question is that Cayman is definitely more expensive if your last grocery stop was at a Canadian Superstore. But judging by the comments of some Australians, Cayman is a bargain, so there you see, like everything else in life, even Cayman grocery prices are relative....

But since I am from Canada, of course I gulped the first time I walked into Foster's Food Fair last June. A couple of weeks before I had bought a 12-pack of Coke for CAD 2.75 (admittedly a sale price), and here was exactly the same twelve-pack for around $8.00. Other items that struck me as particularly expensive compared to Canada were toothpaste, snacks (granola bars etc.), juices, and soy milk (which is prohibitively expensive even when it is on sale). On the other hand, dairy and poultry products, which in Canada are 'supply managed' (essentially meaning that the price is government controlled), are comparatively cheaper here.

And while there are places where you can save money if you buy in larger lots - CostULess, similar to Canada's CostCo - there is no way around it: groceries are more expensive here. Of course, when you think about the long and expensive air-conditioned trip a perishable good like lettuce or better yet, a frozen product, has to make to land on a Foster's food shelf, it is hardly surprising.

That's not to say that there is no local food. There is a daily fish market right by the harbour front, as well as a farmer's market that is held just outside of Georgetown. I also like to buy local beef, and last week also came home with a bag of mangos given to me by a friend who has a mango tree in her backyard. But of course there is no way a small island like this could sustain its current population, as the land is neither available nor suitable for growing everything.

Another downside for some people is the lack of specialty foods, even though some stores (particularly Kirk Supermarket) do an admirable job of bringing in novelties such as "authentic British food" - think mint jelly! But these things are not cheap, and so if you are dead set on living exclusively on tofu and brown rice noodles, you will likely find this an expensive place for accommodating special diets or tastes.

And yet I have also learned that when things are expensive, you become a lot more deliberate and quality-conscious and don't spend money on something just because it's on sale and cheap. This was somewhat surprising at first, because one would generally assume that expensive prices would drive you to cheaper (and less quality) items to save some money. And of course there is an aspect of that too. However, when products are more expensive, and thus you are not as ready to buy a lot of them just because - well, then you start looking a lot closer at quality.

I am a lot more conscious of what I am buying precisely because it costs more, and I would rather have something of quality (since I am already spending money on it anyway) than junk in cans, which really isn't that much cheaper anyway. I guess you could say it has redefined my attitude towards food somewhat - and in a way it goes with the old adage that if it doesn't cost anything, it has no value.

Speaking of values, below is a randomly selected group of grocery products (as of June 13 2009), priced at a local supermarket (in US$):

Strawberries, one pound 7.50
Head of lettuce 2.75
Cranberry juice (1.89 litres) 6.25
Milk 2%, half gallon 4.50

Cheddar cheese, one pound 6.87

Oreo cookies 14 oz. 5.70

Coke 2 litres 3.12

12 pack Sprite 8.61

Eggs dozen 2.86

Chicken breast, 6.61 per pound

Rump Roast, beef, 4.62 per pound

Pita bread 12 oz 2.69

Gallon and pint ice cream 12.31

Baguette (large) 3.75


And last but not least, I must give credit where it's due - the thumbnail above is a picture taken by Richard during one of his photo shoots.

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