If you find yourself humming King Fiah’s “de poor man feeling it/in the pocket/ah feeling it/ah feeling it”, it’s a sign of the times.
Keynote in mid-October 2022 at the Antigua and Barbuda Conference, Donald Charles, former banker in Antigua and Barbuda and current managing director of the WOCAP Fund, an investment fund based in Jamaica, presented on the impact of global inflation on the Antiguan and Barbudan economy. What caught my eye, and landed us in conversation here in my art and culture column of all places, was his presentation’s focus on inflation’s real impact on the streets, ie, how it’s hitting the people.
“Inflation does have an impact on what persons eat and what persons eat is going to have an impact on their health … [and] the whole entire support system,” Charles told me.
His presentation tabled price-controlled items – visibly brand rather than product specific and, food-wise, filled with so many of the things we are told to avoid to stave off or manage lifestyle diseases (like diabetes; so rampant in Antigua and Barbuda and the Caribbean).
Charles told me, “it’s reflective of what the society is eating and the society is eating what they can afford and what they can afford is a lot of processed items … it has an impact on their health and then it has an impact on society and on the government … increasing medical costs…so everything is interrelated.”
Discussing the home-cooked items you might find on an Antiguan plate, Charles said, “when you look at pears, or the potatoes to make the ducana, is that readily available and is the price reasonable so that persons can say ‘I’m going to be switching from this item to that item because the prices are more competitive and I can eat better to improve my health’?”
The collective bad diet that contributes to society’s lifestyle diseases is, of course, not just the fault of inflation, and we have had a backyard gardening push in recent years to grow more of what we eat. But budget issues are at play, for instance, in the example Charles gave of a man breaking for a lunch of greasy fast food and a small soda. The appeal, he pointed out, of the Kraft macaroni and Libbys peas and carrots found on the list of price-controlled items, is they’re not only cheap but quick and easy.
“It’s a very serious dilemma and you can imagine that dilemma on persons who are at the lower income levels that are living on a very tight budget; they don’t really have any options … as it is now, the most people can do is look for where they can get the best deals.”
It is a feature of inflation that what goes up very rarely comes down, even when the things that drove it up do, so he suggests budget adjustments/priority spending not just in the short term but in terms of lifestyle, and community-level planning.
“There needs to be a real development of our communities in terms of community organizations, parish councils: are we going to plant more natural local food within our communities so that the people in the community can buy them…to improve their health? That’s the level we need to be at.”
Researching his presentation, Charles found himself listening in on some guys in town. One said, “the size of everything is coming down – the bread is coming down in size, the weed is coming down and the quality is getting worse.”
Things brown, indeed.
The impacts of inflation are too numerous to mention, from the young man who “had a plan to get in to business” but can’t, to the folks still feeling the social impact of Covid, “on edge” because “they don’t have enough food to feed their family”.
I asked Charles when things will improve. He said, “it’ll be a while.”
For my full interview with Don Charles, covering oil prices, fuel subsidies, how price control on one item can lead to higher prices on unrelated items, and what caused the inflation, visit Antiguan Writer on YouTube.
CREATIVE SPACE is an award winning column spotlighting Antigua-Barbuda & Caribbean art and culture. It is written by Joanne C. Hillhouse. Read the extended edition with EXTRAS at https://jhohadli.wordpress.com/creative-space. Watch full interviews and extras in the CREATIVE SPACE playlist at https://www.youtube.com/user/AntiguanWriter