One chicken leg for dinner - Hard times push poor to make eye-popping buys

June 03, 2022


What would you do if you found yourself with only $200 for dinner? For many persons this is a challenge. However, Pat*, a former sugar worker, makes fixing dinner on this measly budget look easy.

She buys one chicken leg for $80 and spends another $30 on seasoning. For starch, she purchases half pound of mixed flour (flour and cornmeal) for $35, and spends another $20 for sweet potato. Her total is $165.

"You chop up the meat, cook it down, and dinner gone clear," Pat said.

But surviving on less than $200 a day is this middle-aged, single woman's daily reality. On days when she does not feel for a change in protein source, she purchases half-pound of chicken gizzard or a few pieces of turkey neck, but she has to keep an eye on her near-empty purse.

"I never thought that a woman would come and want one chicken leg and wing," shop operator Brent Knowles told THE WEEKEND STAR.

The Trelawny-based businessman said that Pat is not unique in her shopping habits. He said that he has been making odd sales like a half of a chicken breast to people who have little money to spend.

"The people who buy small amounts of meat come from all different classes, but it's mostly single people. Those with small families will buy like half pound of mixed parts and cook it down brown stew or curry," Knowles said.

Pat, he notes, has been without a regular income since the closure of the Long Pond Sugar Factory in 2017. Other displaced sugar workers have been forced to buy in small quantities due to limited cash and the fact that they have no electricity in the barracks that they still occupy.

Alpha, a St Thomas native who moved to Trelawny years ago to work on the sugar estate, said that he and other persons found it hard to make ends meet.

" A number of us went to June [a shopkeeper] and asked her to sell us small amount of food," he said. June obliged, and soon after word got around that the shopkeeper was prepared to sell small portions.

Since then June has been selling sugar by the teaspoon, a squeeze of toothpaste, single frankfurter and bread by the slice.

"They live alone in the shared barracks and they just live from day to day. ... These people are survivors. They buy a drinks bottle of liquid soap. It is used to wash clothes and bathe. Some people would not do it but for them it is normal," said Swaby.

"We eat three meals a day -- breakfast, lunch, and dinner -- but they sometimes eat one meal for the day," she added.

In the meantime, Knowles, who has been operating his grocery for the past seven years, said that the purchase of small portions of meat has been a recent phenomenon.

"When I started there was no small selling. Over time, the prices went up and salaries remained stable, or people lost jobs, especially in the hotel sector during the height of COVID-19," the shopkeeper said.

He noted that food prices have been flying skyward, making it difficult for persons with low or limited income to buy the items they truly want.

"Chicken back started at $110 and it is now $205 per pound. One pound of chicken was $180 per pound and it is now $400," he observed.

The shopkeeper continued: "There was a time when on a Sunday morning I would take out a box of mixed parts, weighing 40 pounds, and by 10 o'clock it's sold out. Now it takes all day because people just buy for a meal. They buy like three chicken nuggets and one frankfurter. In order to sell, I have to cut to fit the desires of the customers," Knowles said.

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