Monday, September 21, 2009

Doubles as an economic indicator:

The Trini street food doubles, when googled will get you a lot of hits. There are pictures, stories, blogs and recipes that the search will run many pages. Doubles have been around for a long time and though there is much discussion to their origin, they, like Carnival, are a great leveler. Essentially, doubles are two rounds of soft dough that are fried so that they are crisp but pliable. They’re filled with curried chickpeas that have a thickish sauce to prevent drippage. When done well, they are delectable and are known as the things you must have when coming home from a late night party, the grease perfect for sopping up alcohol. They are filling and once, they were considered to be the “poor man’s food”. Like so many other things over the years they have morphed into one of those foods that have snob appeal. We now have our favourite doubles vendor, the condiments have grown more and more elaborate (and silly) and on many a morning you will find people of all shades, hues and economic backgrounds lining up for “two with slight (pepper sauce).

Recently however, there has been much grumbling in this place called Paradise because the price of an average doubles has gone from $1.50 to $4.00 and even $5.00 in the last two years. The outrage! Much has been written, including in this blog, as to the grasping, opportunism of doubles vendors who raised their prices when the price of flour went up and never dropped them when it fell. Well truthfully a lot of companies did that but no one has yet commented on HiLo’s predatory pricing practices.

In the recent budget it was once again apparent that the middle class would be made to bear the brunt of the shrinking economy. If you are an unmarried person with no assets there is a good probability that you are going to remain with no assets because of the difficulty in saving. In the last three years the cost of everything has increased exponentially but not my salary and things look pretty bleak there. Rents have increased, the cost of electricity, basic services, food, you name it, I don’t sell a product that I can raise the price on to cover my shortfall in revenue. Unlike the business community, I cannot charge the VAT back to my business and recover it. I pay the same rate of tax that the people who make real money do, but I have no tax breaks at all. At the same time, I am responsible for my pension and health plan because my employer does not cover me. I must also shell out for clothing and hair etc as consistent with my job. I don’t entertain clients, if I do; it comes out of my pocket. I don’t party; eat out (other than the occasional Burger King). I maybe get together with friends a couple of times a month and we all split the tab. My bank manager used to laugh and say that I could work a hundred dollars better than anybody he knew. I get that from my grandmother who never spent a bad penny. Sure I scrape by and hope for the best but I know, the day something really happens, I’m quite frankly in shit street.

As per usual there was grumbling after the budget but I am reminded by something a colleague always points out. In Jamaica what do people do when they are dissatisfied? They revolted against the slavemaster, they take action in some form; they generally do not sit around whining but do something. If the price is ridiculous they just don’t buy it. In Trinidad what do we do? Previously we would mock our “masters” in the street, sing calypsos and drink rum. What do we do today? We complain, dress up in expensive costumes that are not worth the half what they cost, drink rum/vodka/Baileys, brag about how much we spent on something and complain about the Government. In short, we have remained sheep who prefer to do nothing but to baaa at our situation. We don’t even sing about it anymore, now we have performers who tell us how to dance and how to behave and generally add very little to our lives. It’s really appalling because it seems to imply that we are unable to think or act for ourselves. It’s always someone else’s fault or responsibility.

And what does this have to do with the doubles vendor you might wonder. Look at it this way. The cost of living has increased for everyone, even your doubles vendor. They are really a barometer for society: though they may not have the overheads of a shop in the mall, they still have mortgages, kids in school, insurance payments, health care etc that they must front themselves. And yes the price of flour may have gone done but by golly, the price of few other things have, they may be making slightly more that they were a couple of months ago but really, how much more. They can’t claim the VAT back like most businesses, the day they are ill or unable to work they make no income. Street vendors know that theirs is a balancing act, their price must be affordable to the masses because they rely on volume to make their profit. Their margin of profit comes down to less than a dollar per item for the one item they sell. While we bitch, whine and moan about everything, I notice that Carnival costumes are still selling, bars are still full, new cars are still hitting the road and people are planning their Carnival fetes and jetting off for weekends in Miami. Well some people anyway, the rest of us are just trying to get by best we can.

Why are we so angry about the rise in the price of doubles? You could always stop buying them except what we are angry about is not the price, it is that we feel more comfortable complaining about doubles vendors because they seem to have no voice of their own than go up against the bigger issues that assail us every day. Do you know what the mark up on that blouse you bought in the mall is, I kid you not, roughly two to three HUNDRED percent. I was going to make one of those unequivocal Coffeewallah statements that are supposed to make people think about circumstances but I find these days I really don’t care anymore. If people wish to remain sheep then that’s their choice, carry on smartly. When I was going through my new age period I would have said, you are where you’re supposed to be, there is a reason for everything. Now I’m pretty sure the reason is, we like it so, why fuss. We continue to accept the status quo because it suits our purpose to not accept responsibility for ourselves. And for those of us who do try to make a change, keep up the fight good people, be the change you want to see in the world even if that means lugging the sheep along behind you.