Food is political
In my country food changed from being a commodity into a tool used by the ever-ruling parties to tame all the citizens especially those who dissed those parties when October 17 felt like a breath of fresh air.
Food is political.
And politics is now dictating what we eat and how we cook.
With the soaring prices of everything due to the inflation and the collapse of the local currency against the dollar, people resorted to looking for alternatives. Imported goods have tripled if not quadrupled in price, which affected most of the local industries as they heavily rely on imported raw materials, which caused their price to also spike, since their only way of getting dollars is at the higher black market rate that is almost reaching 6 to 7 times more than the official rate. With the –expected– lack of support from the government, it is the least described as hell.
How are people coping with this?
Some are not affected. Looking through their instagram profiles, they still continue to post regular food posts as if there is nothing going on. If anyone posts anything different, it is to nag at how a non-essential item is now overpriced.
Regular people are reverting to essentials only. Flour, sugar, the grains and pulses that are still affordable, local white cheeses or processed “cheeses”, maybe some chicken and eggs when on discount, and canned meats or delis on discount. Produce is still, to an extent, affordable. People found comfort and satisfaction in the new horticulture movements by tending to any free space nearby to grow their own food, at least some easy herbs and vegetables, and save a few liras to buy other essentials.
But, is this enough to save us from the doom we are marching towards?
In my opinion, NO.
Even after the speeches and tweets from political party leaders gaslighting us into believing that growing our own food will save us from hunger, which most sensible people refuse to believe, many citizens who live in crammed apartments with little to no space available have a problem in materializing this suggestion. Contrary to the belief, not every Lebanese has a land in the mountains, and not everyone has a green thumb. A story I heard some years ago is that most of our southern coast all the way down to Jaffa, Palestine was covered in citrus fields, until an influential politician told his followers that bananas are the next best crop, and now most of those lands are bananas.
It is happening again now by diverting people’s attention from the on-going corruption and the disastrous government decisions by making them waste their lives to only bring food to the table and leave the leaders plan the next large robbery scheme while creating another problem by over-flooding the country.
Why isn’t agriculture the savior?
While gardening and planting fruits and vegetables and herbs is a great way to destress and fill our time –now that most of us are out of jobs and some are still isolating– and produce some fresh food, this is not sustainable. If things are not organized, this will repeat the 2016 apple crisis scenario all over again caused by the higher supply and competition and lower demand. In 2016, heat caused the crops to be ready for harvest before their time and farmers weren’t ready and hadn’t contacted the merchants or industrial fridges to sell their products to, so they let it go to waste when they couldn’t pick it and the merchants wanted to buy it for cheaper than usual.
Observing an active Facebook group specialized in agriculture consultations, people are starting to reap the benefit of their time in the land, but they also realized they put a lot of time and money into an underwhelming outcome that could be sold at a loss. That’s great, at least now we know what farmers feel when their crops are bought for next to nothing and when they decide to sell the land or erect a building instead and rent it for easier money.
Unless the government (pause for gasps and expressions of shock) regulates this and sets up a plan for supporting more sustainable farming, in terms of organic fertilizers/composts and regulated herbicides/insecticides, and promoting export to bring foreign currency in (which is the ultimate goal now), farming will remain a pastime hobby. We as individuals are trying our best to remain afloat, but without a larger support from those in charge, we can only survive for not so long.
What are people doing through all of this?
From my personal observation, I am seeing more people cooking and finding ways to maximize every ingredient. Making things from scratch has never been that much in demand. This is probably the only immediate good thing coming out of this crisis. Influenced by the shortage and high prices, people are consuming less meats and butter, and are looking for substitutes for everything they can’t get or buy. Nuts, especially pine nuts and almonds, which usually find their way into garnishes are fading away into a food memory of a good time we once had. So many recipes are changing.
People are re-discovering homemade pickles and jams and juice concentrates and dried fruits and vegetables and canning their own sweet corn and fermenting their own Kishk and Shanklish and curdling their own cheese. This is a sudden change perpetrated by political incompetency and fed by the remarkable craftsmanship of the Lebanese in finding a way to make things work out.
We are used to being resilient and adapting to any situation we are thrown into.
But this is not the right time for it now.
Beirut is not charming with blackouts and power cuts, spending one’s life in the land to bring food while education and hospitalization money is nowhere close is not a life goal, remaining under the mercy of corrupt leaders for more than 30 years should not have been something we should get used to.
It is not the time to be resilient.
Regardless of how many songs Sabah or Fairuz or Julia or whoever made songs about that.
No matter how many foodie pages share romantic posts about the plentiful tables and the Manouche and hospitality in Lebanon.
Despite how many travelers post incredible highly edited shots of how close the mountains and the sea are.
No matter how many rooftops and sunset drinks suggestions come up in sponsored posts.
It is time to demand basic rights any human is a rather (pretending) developed country should receive.
We are being controlled through our food.
We deserve better.
We should not settle for this.