Eating hot doubles before work or heading home is a tradition that many hold dear to their hearts.
But as T&T continues to grapple with a high food import bill, making this delicacy a national dish is a great disappointment to Minister of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries Clarence Rambharat.
Speaking at the Point Fortin Borough Corporation’s (PFBC) Grow Your Own Food Project in Fanny Village, Point Fortin, Monday, Rambharat said the ingredients for doubles is fully-imported.
His disappointment came earlier this year when the Government closed retail food outlets, forcing people back to their kitchens. Social media was abuzz with users posting their videos making the favoured Indo-Trinidadian cuisine. Such was the demand for the national food, some businesses that remained open during the lockdown added hot doubles to their offerings.
Rambharat said he often gets questions about the billions spent annually to import food while there is a local agricultural sector.
He said he would often respond to people by asking them to send a photograph of the contents of their refrigerator, saying that consumer demands and purchasing patterns are major causes of the food import bill.
In 2019, T&T spent $5.67 billion on food imports, including $1.1 billion each on cereals and fruits and vegetables, $180 million on biscuits, bread and pastries and TT$28 million on mixes and doughs.
“Our big imports, of course, are things that we need; rice, flour, sugar. Those things are things that we need but do we need so much that doubles must be the national dish of this country? Not just a national dish at a certain time, but a national breakfast, a national lunch and national dinner.
“I don’t have any problem with a bara every so often but to see people dressed for work in all their fineries, at five and six in the morning, standing up by a doubles man and coming back lunchtime by a next doubles man…I was so disappointed in Trinidadians and Tobagonians that in COVID, the one thing they could find to do with their time was to make doubles. Doubles is 100 per cent imported content. There is no local content,” Rambharat said.
He said only the ingredients in condiments like cucumber, pepper sauce and tamarind sauce might be local.
Rambharat comments supported the thrust of the (PFBC) to encourage people to grow their food, suggesting that they also choose to cook local foods. Instead of buying carrots, which accounts for roughly $20 million annually, they can choose pumpkins, which local farmers grow.
Noting that many citizens follow North American culture, Rambharat recalled during his days in the gas industry many working-class people would purchase breakfast, lunch and dinner, for themselves and children.
“It was very disappointing. A lot of them were professionals working with me, and I thought that at least that they ought to know that they can’t live off of pizza, fry chicken, burgers and those kinds of foods. There are thousands of reason why we should not even be on that train, but we have found ourselves there. Not that I have a problem with fast food or people buying food, but there is a balance that must be struck in favour of growing your own food and cooking what we eat and most importantly, eating the things that we know and are familiar with.”
With an aim to reduce food imports, the PFBC distributed grow boxes, seeds and manure to residents of the Hollywood/Fanny Village district to begin their home gardens.
Mayor Saleema McCree Thomas told residents that when they grow their own food, it not only tastes better, but it is healthier.
“Other benefits include saving money, guaranteed freshness and packed with nutrients as you control what goes into what you grow. These benefits cannot be denied and must not be ignored. The time is right, the time is now. Let us grow our own food,” McCree Thomas said.