Today, at Asian Foods Express, the wholesaler that I buy some ingredients from, I found out that the price of coconut milk had doubled from $1 to $2 a can, and the price of shredded coconut had jumped from $1 a pound to $1.75. According to the salesman, it was because of a labor shortage in India. I did a quick search and found this interesting article.
Apparently, picking coconuts is not an easy job. Some people have fallen from as much as 100 ft while picking. Everyday, coconut “pluckers” face serious injury. Also, because of increasing access to education, younger generations in the lower caste system have more career options. This is good for humanity, but bad for cheap coconut. So, now that I have been educated, I am at a crossroads.
I rely heavily on coconut ingredients for my business. Coconut milk, coconut flour, coconut oil, coconut water and shredded coconut are all staples in my kitchen. Before, I just reached for the cheapest option. But now, I have to figure out what to do. Cut down on coconut? Pay more for fair trade? Substitute more local ingredients? Turn a blind eye and pay the $2 without question?
It should have been obvious. When I was working as a chef in Puerto Rico, the groundskeeper dreaded the days I needed coconuts, because he had to sweat in the hot sun, sawing away with a knife attached to the end of a 30ft pole to cut them down, while at the same time getting showered with debris and avoiding the dropping coconuts. They were heavy to carry all the way to the kitchen, too. But I had never put 2+2 together before and made the correlation between that experience and the 30 seconds it took me to put those cans of coconut milk from the store shelf into my shopping basket.
For the time being, I am thinking about experimenting with locally grown sunchokes, checking out wholesale prices for fair trade coconut oil, and keeping my eye out for news of that miraculous, $20,000 coconut-picking robot.