25 YEARS AGO ON AMBERGRIS CAYE   BY ANGEL NUÑEZ

Thank God Chicken is Still Cheap!


T
here used to be a time when chicken was a real delicacy and we ate it once in a blue moon. We used to eat fish every day. Today it is the opposite. Fish is very expensive and we eat that once in a blue moon while we eat chicken almost daily.

I was reminded of this at a recent party given by my very good Gringo/San Pedrano friend, Thomas Kirkpatrick. Food and drinks were going around galore when Thomas remarked, “Gosh, I can’t believe this is the San Pedro I discovered 25 years ago. One used to go up the pier and catch some fish and eat fresh fish at no cost. It was chicken that was scarce and expensive. Today, fish is selling for six or eight dollars a pound, so much that the poor man can hardly afford it.”

And then I was talking to a friend from Orange Walk who said, “I remember the days when the Corozal cane farmers and the San Pedro fisherman used to meet in Belize City and spend like crazy. Today the cane farmer cannot afford to buy fish for it is too high and cane is so low.”

Indeed, fish 25 years ago was very inexpensive. First you could guarantee a good catch from any pier or right along the beach. This was a free as it could get. Two snappers sold for 5 cents. Three shads went for 5 cents. One entire bundle of mixed fish sold for 15 cents, and that could feed a family of eight with a superb “chechac”, or fish soup.

The most expensive fish was the mullet - 3 for 25 cents. Turtle meat was 20 cents a pound. Jewfish sold at 10 cents per pound and that included parts of the chest and head, or at 10 cents fillet. The manatee, which was exploited, very often sold at 10 cents per pound. These were the inexpensive commodities, which the villagers ate on a daily basis.

Chicken was eaten on special occasions, like birthdays, and pork on very special occasions like Christmas. Beef was hardly eaten because it was never grown locally and only seldom brought to the island to be sold. Many special Sunday meals were of a very soft meat that came in cans, and it was called “Corned Beef”, and that sold for a whopping 35 cents.

Why is fish so expensive and a special menu today? I say special because if I go to a good restaurant it will cost somewhere between 20 to 30 dollars for a fish dish. A sea platter would range about 45 dollars. First it is expensive because fish is rarer today and there is a demand. Whenever there is a demand, all the fishermen will raise the price. Snapper is now $2.50 whole, and $8.00 fillet. Also the cost of fish is determined by the export market, and even though San Pedro does not export fish any longer, the export prices remain and the hotels and restaurants are willing to pay that export price. Finally there is the cost of gasoline which keeps climbing, and with that fishermen must raise the price of their product. If gasoline is over $8.00 dollars per gallon, fishermen cannot sell fish any cheaper.

Inflation keeps climbing. The cost of everything keeps going up. Fish is sky high, so we must say thank goodness the price of chicken is still affordable. So friends, a fish dish is a luxury today and chicken our daily meal.

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