The Roots of the New Routine

The roots of local cuisine at Marigot market in 1982. (Photo by Hélène K. Sargeant)

Lockdown has changed the daily routine for people all over the world. For many, long days are spent at home. A daily trip to the bakery seems like a luxury from a long-lost past. Many are worried about the sustainability of modern life. It’s a valid concern. Modern life changed almost overnight.

We adapt. People are baking bread again, or learning to do it for the first time. Vegetable seeds and sprouting potatoes are being put into the soil instead of the trash. Traditional recipes are popular. They provide comfort and often only require pantry basics.

These new ways are often old ways. A hundred years ago, St. Martin was a remote place. Goods arrived after long trips by sea. People worked ground, raised animals and ate from their kitchen garden. Fresh produce was not coming in on planes from France and barges from Miami every day. The shopping list was flour, sugar and salt fish.

Purchases recorded in a ledger in 1953: flour, salt fish, corn meal, sugar, kerosene, a crate of potatoes and a box of prunes.

The St. Martin of a hundred years ago seemed impossible to imagine a month ago. Today, it is a little easier to contemplate. Everyone, from recent arrivals to members of old St. Martin families, is closer to the roots of St. Martin culture today.

Of course, the modern world has not disappeared completely. We might learn to cook a traditional dish by watching a live stream instead of side-by-side with a grandparent in the kitchen. People are asking for planting advice on the brand new Kitchen Garden Club Facebook group, which grew to over 250 members in just a few days.

As we learn, live and share in this new world, we have the perfect opportunity to document traditional knowledge and oral traditions. There is even a new urgency to do so. A month ago, documenting St. Martin heritage was largely a matter of preserving the past. Today it is a chance to relearn how to survive on this island.

Now that we are living and sharing these traditions, let us also preserve them. It is a way to honor those who lived on St. Martin during much harder times. We can’t let their legacy drift into oblivion in the endless scroll of the Facebook timeline.

Share your voice and your stories. We are building an archive where these stories can be saved and enjoyed for years to come. Send an email to [email protected] or record a voice message and send it to Les Fruits de Mer on Facebook. Get tools and learn more at:

Pumpkin, sweet potato, corn, cassava and pigeon pea in a traditional garden in 2020.

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