Cans, tins, dried stuff, rotten eggs and mouldy fruits and vegetables is what you get when you have to import 80 percent of your food and the only way of transporting this food is the monthly cargo ship.
Vau o kai! – Come and eat!
As in most places, food is at the centre of the Tuvaluan culture. However, traditional food plants like papaya, banana, taro and pulaka are finding themselves in fierce competition with human settlement and saltwater, polluting the soils and groundwater.
On Fongafale (the main islet of capital Funafuti), where 50 percent of Tuvaluans live, rapid urbanization, poor waste and waste water management and rising sea leavels results in an 80 percent dependency on food imports. And let me remind you: We are in the Pacific – 1000 km from our nearest neighbour Fiji.
The main source of carbohydrates is not pulaka and taro anymore, but rice – a plant that has never set its roots on Tuvalus 24km2 sandy island soil. This rice and a pretty impressiv selections of tins, cans, dry bisquits and chocolate powders are all coming in with the monthly cargo. MONTHLY – meaning just once every month.
As the 2 planes a week usually are overbooked (and are alredy having troubles carrying the luggage of its passengers) this is the only way of getting food and everything you need on the island. This is not only making food incredible expensive. For example: 12 eggs are 4 Euro, orange juice is 3 Euro, bread between 1,5 – 2,5 Euro and furniture a completely different story! This is huge when a good monthly salary can be about 800 Euros and this usually have to feed the whole extended family + a neighbour or two.
It is also making your choices very limited. There are only one or two brands of everything and you never know if you can get what you want. If there are no more eggs, you have to wait until the next cargo to get eggs. If the shops have a good chocolate, you better buy a lot, because you never know if they will get more.
The sweetest part of the story is that if you find something new and really exciting in a shop just after the latest cargo (like Danish jam from Fiji, or orange juice without the apple base or 70 percent chocolate) you can’t buy it, because the cashier haven’t gotten the price yet.
The annoying part is that when you really need something – like a new laptop (in my case RIGHT now) your choices are limited and the alternatives on the island are crazy crazy expensive.