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Minister Minister of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries Clarence Rambharat arrives for the 12th Parliament Ceremonial Opening.

SHARLENE RAMPERSAD

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Agriculture Minister Clarence Rambharat has come under heavy fire from the public for his comments that ‘Doubles’ should not be considered as a national dish because most of its ingredients are imported.

Rambharat was speaking on Monday at the Point Fortin Borough Corporation’s (PFBC) Grow Your Own Food Project in Fanny Village, he said consumer demand was the reason for this country’s high food import bill. Listing products like flour, rice and sugar, Rambharat said, “Our big imports, of course, are things that we need; rice, flour, sugar. Those things are things that we need but do we need so much that doubles must be the national dish of this country? Not just a national dish at a certain time, but a national breakfast, a national lunch and national dinner.”

But yesterday, the backlash over his comments was swift. Many citizens took to social media to express their disagreement, with some even labelling the issue “Doublesgate.”

Guardian Media visited several doubles vendors in the Curepe and Bamboo area yesterday for their thoughts on the Minister’s statements.

Vendor Jay Ramoutar said Rambharat was out of touch with the people of the country.

“What he talking about? Something wrong with he…to shut down doubles, how people will live? You know how much people making a living like this? People have families to feed,” Ramoutar said.

He said doubles vendor support local farmers as much as they can when purchasing raw material for their businesses.

“Doubles man have to buy seasoning from here, like chive, celery, chadon beni, pepper, almost everything from here, the only thing left for us to do is grow we own channa and make we own oil,” he said.

Channa or chickpea is a cool season crop- said to grow best in 70 to 80-degree night temperatures. It is mainly produced in India and the United States.

Vendor Alhoy Garcia said doubles is an integral part of T&T’s culture and often the first meal foreigners seek when they visit the country.

“I don’t think that is fair, I think that is outta timing thing,” Garcia said about Rambharat’s statements.

“Because at the end of the day, people does leave all away and come to eat doubles here, not by me alone so I don’t know how he end up with that statement.”

Garcia said the doubles industry provides employment to thousands of employees daily. At several of the doubles stalls in Curepe and Grand Bazaar, there were foreign nationals serving the popular dish.

Those who lined up to get their hot doubles defended the dish and hit out at Rambharat for his statement.

Shurland Wilson said he has been eating doubles for decades and was adamant that nothing could stop him from getting his favorite dish.

“I don’t know whether it make with imported products or not but since I small I know doubles, it is a part of our culture,” he said before joining a line at a Curepe doubles stand to wait on his turn to order.

A short distance away at another vendor, Jimel Pierre was slouched over, trying to devour the doubles completely before its sauces could decorate the front of his shirt.

He said the Minister’s point was moot as most of what Trinidadians consume on a daily basis is imported.

“Everything we eat imported now, doubles is a national food, this is part of our country here,” Pierre said. “People from England, America and all over the world coming down here for this and they can’t even make it like us.”

A farmer, who identified himself only as Ramesh said doubles vendors keep the local hot pepper industry afloat with their business.

He said for most working-class people, doubles is the only meal choice that is within their budget.

“The small workers in this country cannot survive without doubles, because with ten dollars you can get a proper meal, a breakfast or a lunch or even a dinner,” Ramesh said.

Contacted yesterday for comment on the public outcry over his statements, Rambharat said his comments were made in a ‘certain context.’

He said while he was quoted in media reports correctly, the entire context was not published.

“The comments were in a particular context which is consistent with the position I have taken on the link between agriculture and health, Non-Communicable Diseases and the need to adjust our personal eating habits in line with our personal health risks,” Rambharat.

The Minister said his comments were also based on negative national trends shown in Pan American Health Organisation and Ministry of Health data.