George Graham

Hard Times are Relative and Jamaican Relatives Have it Really Hard

There’s an old Persian saying that goes something like this:

I was crying because I had no shoes,
until I met a man who had no feet.

The saying came to mind this morning when I read an item in the Jamaican Daily Gleaner about a new consumption tax that will increase prices by 17.5 percent “across the board.” The story focused on the effect this will have on patties.

pattyIf you are Jamaican – if you have ever lived in Jamaica – you know about patties. They’re the staff of life to us Jamaicans, rich and poor, but especially the poor. Here’s how the Gleaner writer put it:

Remember when your cash was low (that seems more than ever these days) and in order to get something to ‘stop a gap’, you would grab a patty? 

I remember. There were times when I was so hungry my belly thought my throat had been cut (as the old folks used to say), and I would grab a patty to ease the pangs. They were tasty, and they were cheap. If my memory can be trusted, they cost a shilling, which in those days was equal to about 14 American cents. But those days are long gone.

The Gleaner story reports:

As it is now, beef patties are in the $70-$90 range, while their chicken counterparts are usually between $90 and $100. More exotic patties are already over the $100 mark, depending on where you make your purchase. Of course, we have not yet factored in the cocoa bread and other starches to go with it. But when January 1 comes around, even the cheapest one will probably cost ‘a bills’. Chicken patties could go up to the disturbing level of $120. So a ‘Nanny’ won’t buy as many patties anymore.

Granted those are Jamaican dollars, and a Jamaican dollar is on par with an American penny. But Jamaicans don’t get paid in American money. This Gleaner quote puts it in perspective:

“Wow! I’m really going to have to cut back now,” says Ricardo. He readily admits he is a ‘patty man’ and usually eats two per day on at least three days for the week. “I know chicken patties are healthier, but sometimes to cut costs, I eat the beef ones. Now I may have to start eating only one.”

pattiesOne patty a day. And a patty is about the size of a deck of cards. Not a whole lot of nourishment for a hard working man – or woman. But Jamaicans know times are hard, and the government is strapped. Everybody is having to tighten their belt.

Can you imagine the outrage in America if the government were to propose a 17.5 percent consumption tax “across the board”? Suggestions of even the tiniest taxes on the richest Americans are greeted with screams of “Socialism!” If you’re not hearing those screams already, you’ll be hearing them soon as the health care reform bill limps through Congress. And all you hear from the media these days is incessant whining about “the bad economy.”

We really have it hard in America, don’t we? Unemployment insurance, Medicare and Medicaid, Social Security, stimulus hand-outs … and don’t ask us to pay any taxes for all that stuff, either. In America, the poor complain because they are not rich, and the rich complain because they are not richer.

Meanwhile, our long-suffering Jamaican relatives must tighten their belts once again, and cut back on their patties. Let’s remember them this Christmas season as we baste our turkey and glaze our ham, grumbling all the time about the U.S. government’s failure to do better by us.

About the author


I am a Jamaican-born writer who has lived and worked in Canada and the United States. I live in Lakeland, Florida with my wife, Sandra, our three cats and two dogs. I like to play golf and enjoy our garden, even though it's a lot of work. Since retiring from newspaper reporting I've written a few books. I also write a monthly column for