Social media has been abuzz this past week with the news of National Flour Mills increasing wholesale prices of flour to 33%. This was also accompanied by a 28% price increase in retail products. This is the second price increase in flour within the past six months in Trinidad and Tobago.
This has sparked a lot of discussion online on how we should respond to these increases. One of the responses that has gained traction on social media is the messaging coming out of NAMDEVCO urging people to look at root crop flour as an alternative.
On the surface, the root crop flour alternative is a seductive message. It presents itself as the perfect response using local products to replace the imported wheat flour. But if we take a closer look at that option it quickly unravels as a viable solution. Root crop flours are expensive. A 16oz bag of cassava flour can retail for around $40. Sweet potato flour sells for around $45. So from a home economics standpoint, it does not make any sense to advise people to purchase root crop flour as an alternative to wheat flour which will still retail for almost half the cost of root crop flours. Not to mention, if the intention is to continue making bakes, breads, roti etc, then wheat flour is still needed in many cases to produce these items. You would have to mix the wheat with the root crop flour for optimal results.
Another suggestion from NAMDEVCO urged people to try making root crop flours at home. This is another response that doesn’t seem to factor in the reality for most people in Trinidad & Tobago. Making root crop flour is time and labor intensive and people do not have the luxury to invest in making this a viable alternative.
Forget about flour.
My suggestion is a simple but effective one: Forget about flour and just eat the root crops. This is a classic case of the most likely solution being the simplest one. We can simply boil our dasheen, eddoes, cassava, yam and green fig and eat that instead of bread or bake. You don’t have to spend extra time trying to turn these ingredients into flour then invest more time and effort to make meals from them. Also, boiled provisions are the perfect meal prep. You can boil a variety of provisions and have various starches to incorporate into meals for the week.
My two cents on the response by NAMDEVCO and other entities is that they see this rise in wheat flour as an opportunity to romanticize the idea of diversification in agriculture and agri-processing. But we all know that our governments have been dropping the ball on this issue for decades. Unfortunately, this is not the time to pick it up. Don’t get me wrong, the government should take this as a sign and do what needs to be done to work with other countries in the region and invest in developing industries that can change and challenge our food system. However, this is not something that can be achieved in the short term and right now, people need to feed themselves and their families. We need to offer real world solutions to real world problems.
This is an Opportunity.
The rise in the price of flour puts our poor and working class even more financial strain. But I believe there is an opportunity here for us to change our relationship with food. Globalization has turned us into a society that consumes food that is far removed from our immediate environment. We need a shift in perspective to food and our relationship to the land and how that impacts our diet. Focusing on eating ground provisions, green fig and breadfruit in simple forms can help achieve that shift.
We need to think about ourselves, our environment and our food as part of one holistic thing where eating local is more than just sloganeering. We also need to accept that every aspect of our food supply does not need to be industrialized.
There is an opportunity here for us to “get back to basics”. I think our pockets and our bodies will thank us in the long run.
I have been looking into this as a business idea but not yet convinced. You raise all my concerns. Production costs have another knock on effect. As farmers try to meet demand, more chemicals will go into food production. Farmers already warning about rising food prices due to increasing inputs especially chemicals. Make me wonder how healthy even a lot of our local produce is.
I think for home use, these flours are fine to make yourself with standard home appliances if you feel for a flatbread or something baked. But it can never fully replace the wheat flour finished product market. A dietary shift (as you point out) is needed.
I totally agree with your sentiments. Globalisation has tremendously impacted our relationship with food that we think we cant do without what our colonisizers imposed on us. Flour manufacture removes not only nutrients but fibres and so much more. It should be a last option for us if we run out of storage options but its time we get back to our indigenous foods.
There are a zillions of right options, but we seem not to be taking them. Everyone everywhere needs to be solution oriented and know all the options around them.
In Malawi there are soooooooo many foods, we don’t have to go beyond our borders if we used everything God gave us to their fullest potential.
I completely agree. Out of every crisis comes an opportunity and this is an opportunity for us to improve our health. Diabetes and hypertension are too normalized, when they can be a thing of the past with these diet changes.
I totally agree, eating the provision boiled or steam is so much better, of course that may cause a price increases in the product, but we have to try it.
Perfect solution 🙌🏼
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I use root crop flour but only in moderation for baking. I’d rather eat the provisions any way they are cooked.
I do agree the alternatives are much healthy but not affordable as there isn’t a high demand in the market for them and it takes a lot of processing to turn root crops into flour.
If you want to eat and stay healthy, cook the crops instead and reap the nutritional benefits in its natural state.