Man must eat—but so much junk?

By Raffique Shah
September 05, 2016

Raffique ShahEven as most people cry out loudly about the state of the national economy, relating sad stories about the hard times they face, the high prices of almost everything and the unavailability of some things, especially critical medications, a Starbucks coffee house opened its doors for business last week.

According to news reports, scores of customers queued on the pavement outside the business, eagerly awaiting the opportunity to buy their first “cuppa” from the famous American-owned international chain. Prices range from $42 down.

Now, I am no spoil-sport to even think of criticising those who believe the Starbucks brand is worth every dollar-per-drop of its brews, nor do I arrogate unto myself the authority to advise people how they should spend their money.

I am a one-cup-on-mornings man who swore by Hong Wing local ground coffee until some years ago when I found its flavour had declined, only to discover that the company that once cast an appetising aroma in downtown Port of Spain when it roasted and blended beans, was using Brazilian feedstock. By then I figured out there were little or no differences in flavour among the many ordinary brands, and ever since I have been drinking whatever is available.

So I am no coffee connoisseur. I should add that I had one cup of Starbucks coffee some years ago at the urging of a friend when I visited London, and, frankly, I don’t recall being impressed.

But my tastes and habits are immaterial to the points I wish to make.

That Prestige Holdings, the biggest franchise restaurants company in the country—think KFC, Pizza Hut, TGIF and Subway—thought it opportune to add Starbucks to its stable at this time, speaks volumes about its knowledge of the market, its understanding of how Trinis spend their money.

Prestige, a publicly-traded company run by some of the finest business minds in the country, has experienced growth in sales from around $600 million in 2010, to above $900 million in 2014. Now, with Starbucks, the company is no doubt aiming at the billion-dollar mark.

It knows that the truism “man must eat” has taken new meaning in T&T: man will eat junk food, whatever the cost. Put graphically, if Trini has $40 in his pocket, he will spend $35 on a fry-and-fries, a burger, slices of pizza, six doubles or a roti, and hope he can short-change a maxi or “ph” car to take him home as he rubs his belly and burps…or worse.

Assuming the Prestige Group has 25 per cent of the fast-foods market, and the others, which include other franchise restaurants, thriving local establishments, roti, pies and bake-and-shark and similar shops, as well as hundreds of doubles and delicacies vendors, then Trinis must spend approximately $4 billion a year on junk foods.

Since I have not included what is prepared at home, which I imagine is in decline but still considerable, that’s a huge amount of food for 1.3 million people. And it’s not just a question of quantitatively how much we eat, but qualitatively what we eat. Increasingly, as we became more prosperous on a relative scale, we have moved away from eating wholesome, nutritious foods, to processed junk.

I know lifestyles have changed over the years: with most adults in households holding down jobs, there are hardly mothers (or fathers) at home to cook. However, even in such situations, with proper planning, several meals can be prepared, refrigerated and used later for lunch or dinner.

But it’s so much easier, if not cheaper, to buy and eat junk, conscious, though, of the fact that you and your children are likely eating your way to diabetes, hypertension, even cancer. In so many ways, we help create our own woes.

The franchise holders use foreign exchange to import foods that may not be healthy. They also pay royalties and other fees, in US dollars, to the metropolitan brand owners. We consume the foods and contract serious illnesses that put further strain on the nation’s health system. More foreign exchange is required to import medications to treat diseases we all but bought.

It’s a vicious circle that gets bigger and costlier every year.

I’m not casting blame on Starbucks or the jefes at Prestige Holdings or even the doubles and bake-and-shark vendors. They are not forcing us to buy their products. They employ thousands of locals and pay taxes—$21 million in corporation tax in 2014 in the case of Prestige.

Ultimately, though, they use considerable amounts of foreign exchange but earn none.

And we consumers aid and abet them in this nonsense by elevating franchise fast-foods, and now beverages, to iconic images of progress and social status symbols: my chile have KFC for lunch; or, meet me at Starbucks for coffee.

7 Responses to “Man must eat—but so much junk?”


  • “(Conservative Post ) At the Starbucks annual shareholders meeting on Wednesday, CEO Howard Schultz sent a clear message to anyone who supports traditional marriage over gay marriage: we don’t want your business.

    After saying Starbucks wants to “embrace diversity of all kinds,” he told a shareholder who supports traditional marriage that he should sell his shares and invest in some other company.

    According to a report by Forbes, Schultz seemed a bit intolerant of any Starbucks shareholders who opposed gay marriage for moral or religious reasons.”

    One of the reasons I can’t drink their over priced green tea latte. I know every weekend there will be long lineups to buy their product because it is the novel thing to do. But intolerance of opposing views means they don’t want my business.

  • Trinidadians/Tobagonians, are wonders to behold. They all love to COPY, other folks crap. But WAIT, DOWN THE YEARS, they will pay for all the Junk they eat Now.—–Funny, they have great Natural foods. They also say that they are SMART—-NOT——–Why do the Country invite, incorage all these stupid Junk foods??–Who is benefiting?? from all these poisons. ? The rest of the WORLD is waking up, about AMERICAN, CRAP. Is the ISLAND FOLKS SO DUMB??

  • “So I am no coffee connoisseur. I should add that I had one cup of Starbucks coffee some years ago at the urging of a friend when I visited London, and, frankly, I don’t recall being impressed.” Uncle Shah
    Ha ha , that was funny from our ‘fuddy- duddy,’ Uncle Shah, and for de record , you weren’t meant to be impressed with Starbucks coffee,or any of it’s numerous other products,for that ain’t what they are chiefly selling as a brand- and of course, I know dat you know it , so I won’t bore you with that information.
    It’s called Globalization.
    Take the “Bake and shark ,” you spoke about , that you ensure your British , Canadian, and Yankee friends visiting T&T , get de chance to feast on , when they dropped by ,over crowded Maracas Beach. Hopefully , you don’t likewise think that is Shark, you are really eating.
    No , Non Neyet , not true, Nunca! It’s called Catfish. 30 years ago, when you went fishing with Papa , he’ll instruct you to throw that garbage away, but after eating the unhealthy Southern Soul Food , in the now Chinese owned Restaurants, in Harlem, and similar parts of the USA, our folks have developed an attachment for such, and want the same – just like Starbucks, Wendy , Pop Eyes, Burger King, and the likes .
    Just embrace changes , mi Piazanno.
    Irrespective of class, members of the nuvo rich ,competing tribes , ain’t cooking anymore.
    On a more serious note, I see that you too choose to claim that our national population, is still 1.3 million.
    Even with what looked like , 800,000 plus immigrants, of all colors/ stripes , now making T&T their home , during the past 6 years?
    Yeah Right!

  • Take for example coconut water. Here in T&T one can have a fresh juicy coconut for a few dollars, do you know that some prefer to buy a foreign manufactured can of sodium based coconut water that might be months old? Ever wonder why in the past twenty years or so, there has been a noticeable increase in mental health cases. Ever wondered why cancer and a host of other diseases have encroached into our failing health system?
    The answer is simple. You are what you eat! If you consume junk, your body produces junk in return. I am no doctor so I shall not pretend to know medicine but it is commonsense to know that you are what you eat. If you smoke or use needles, you will NEVER be the embodiment of health; somewhere along the way body and mind will return the result of what you have been feeding it.
    We have some of the healthiest fruits and produce in the world.
    But we have to love what we have and learn to romanticize our local cuisine to suit our taste buds. Americans are always ‘on the go’ that is why McDonalds; KFC; Wendys; BurgerKing; Popeye; Checkers et al become so popular. If most people who consume those delicacies are privy to the preparation of them, most would be astonished at what they see. As for value? The stats and labels are very telling, never mind the fancy way in which they are written. Bottom line is they are not necessarily healthy.

  • I’m attempting to eat more wholesome (non-refined) plant based foods…especially those produced locally. PriceMart Is selling local produce to locals at competitive prices. My challenge is that all the profits are repatriated abroad. ….Just purchased produce from road side farmer/vendor at a higher price but at least the profit remains home and back into producing local. Also the human interaction was priceless.

  • I used to buy Starbucks coffee from Seattle back in the 80’s when their coffee was not that fancy. In fact I had it mailed to me in Boston. I really don’t care for all that sugar, cream and crappy stuff. They literally know how to market to the heard. I still like Hong Wing coffee…but Mr. Shah..you have now jaded my perception with your insight. I am looking for real coffee beans that are roasted and sold by the pound..so I can take it home and grind it…but we live in Trinidad and today import everything. We live in a little China with all fake products…from clothes to medicine to cigarettes.

    Our roads are build with substandard asphalt that is mixed with a lower grade chemical oil composition that causes our roads to crack and wear faster…causing massive potholes. Folks we don’t put salt on our roads and we do not get snow..but we have many massive potholes that go unrepaired…

    We are inundated with plastic and everything that is American and Chinese. Even our culture is now fake. Trinidad is not a country that belongs to us…we need to figure out how to create our own evolution here …without outside intervention ….like from America, Europe, Africa, India and who know where…we need write our own history about who we are, how we came here and where we are going..and it starts with introspection and self examination…and whose is profiting from our history..

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