Written by: Roxane
As some of my fellow contributors have lamented, food shopping on an island can be a major undertaking – visiting 3 or more stores (assuming you have that luxury) for one item on your list isn’t unusual. It’s more likely that you will have to change your recipe mid-aisle, forcing yourself to get creative with the mishmash of unmatched ingredients in your cart (“belly” and boiled okra, anyone?). Fortunately, I grew up with a wonderful mother who taught me to put bizarre foods to good use (although I do hate okra). Pig feet and ears, beef shank, beef tongue, and chicken livers are always available on island and, happily for me, unintimidating. Yummy, actually, once you get over the fact that you just ate an ear. (I haven’t, however, figured out what to do with the pickled pig feet. And frankly, I don’t want to.)
But being okay with purchasing things like pig ears has a major perk (aside from being always available, that is): they’re cheap. Well, at least when you’re comparing them to the $15 package of 6 boneless, skinless, and challengingly freezer-burnt chicken breasts. Because really, how can one rationalize making things with ingredients that have a full extra digit in their price than you’re used to? Can you really justify making mac ’n cheese with a $15 package of cheddar? Can you?
Island grocery prices are generally dependent on the nearest civilization. The expanse of blue water that things have to cross sets the prices, which rise in line with each nautical mile traveled. Between freight, duty, mark-up, the ocean conditions the barge dealt with, the number of items frozen by the temperamental climate-controlled barge containers, the whimsical fluctuations of market pricing, and the moon phase, you can expect the strawberries and other drool-worthy items to be at least $15 USD.
At moments like this, I hesitate in the aisle, wondering how many times the strawberries have been frozen and thawed, and briefly remember the last batch I bought that slowly infected the fridge with a yet-unidentified mold. This brought on thoughts of the time I bought a package of seafood mix that emitted massive amounts of ammonia fumes, and I idly wonder if it could possibly battle the strawberry mold floating around my fridge space. I decide that my fridge isn’t a good test site for chemical warfare, but I’m still tempted to buy the strawberries. And against all better judgment, I always do.
And half wind up in the trash.
The point is though, we island girls generally fall victim to paying prices that no sane person would normally pay. But maybe that’s the point. Assuming sanity, we potentially wouldn’t be here in the first place. There’s my deep thought for the day.
Among the most expensive things you can put in your cart, there are two in particular that really mystify (and frustrate) me: toilet paper and paper towels.
If you fly to Cayman Brac or Little Cayman from Grand Cayman with local Sister Islanders, then it’s likely that there will be at least one baggage piece composed of three packages of 24-roll Charmin toilet paper or multiple packages of 16-count paper towels duct taped together. This is due to the obscene pricing inflation of these items once they reach the Sister Islands. The most recent package of Charmin Ultra-Soft 4 double rolls I bought cost nearly $10 USD, and the 6-roll Brawny package of paper towels put me out $18 USD. (At the moment, there is also a single roll of paper towels available for purchase at nearly $15 USD! I haven’t yet purchased it to find out, but I’m curious as to what magical powers it could offer me at that price. Does it take verbal instructions, Harry Potter style? Surely, it must.)
Walmart (to quote their website) sells the same Charmin package for $3 USD and 8 rolls of Brawny for $10 USD. So why would the local grocery stores do this to us, their loyal, albeit desperate, customers? It’s cruel and unusual punishment to pay so much for something so basic. I’ve finally accepted the astronomical price tag on laundry detergent and olive oil, due to the fact that the airlines label them as “flammable” or “noxious” materials, but it leaves me to wonder if they are applying the same labels to these paper necessities too? These things travel via unmanned barges, not passenger planes, come on!
I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s a grocery store conspiracy. I imagine they gather together every month and have a good laugh at the consumers’ expense. Because, honestly, what else are we supposed to use?
I’m always up for a little island ingenuity challenge. I’ve learned to bake my own (pretty good) bread. I grow my own dill, peppers, and three types of basil. Potpourri? Sure, I’ll give it a go. How about chopping local wood for smoking lionfish? Bring it on, sister. But toilet paper? Nope. Toilet paper is not something I can easily make with accessible materials, nor can I necessarily do without it. Though with all the time I’ve spent driving to and from the different markets looking for various items, I’ve put idle thought into the toilet paper issue (maybe this means I need a hobby… something besides cooking and diving.. and drinking).
- Banana leaves aren’t an option, mostly because we just don’t have enough banana trees on the island. Plus, most of them are on the bluff, and that’s a 30-minute trip just to stock up.
- Grass is definitely not an option, since it’s full of burrs. Plus, I’m allergic to it.
- Paper towels or Kleenex can’t be substituted either – they’re even more expensive!
For now, I’ll just have to accept that toilet paper is a genius conspiracy scheme of which I am a helpless victim. Someone figured out that I’m not about to make my own paper products and hence can charge me ludicrous amounts of money for it.
The markets win either way. They play upon my childish desperation for items like strawberries and good cheese, as well as the need for basic home goods, knowing that I will purchase them regardless. They also know that I will stubbornly and hopefully visit every store searching for that necessary ingredient despite the teeth-grinding acceptance of the price. If I give up, then the frozen section is always stocked with French fries and I will forgive the toilet paper price if they offer me some decent eggplant.