Friday, September 19, 2014

This is not a food blog. I'm not sure what it is. The most I can decipher is that it's a blog of my thoughts interjected with quotes from authors who say it better than I. But I read a lot about the subject of local food and follow food blogs and also eat, you know, three times a day so I guess it's inevitable that the subject of food comes up every now and then.

Before moving to Honduras, I was of the ilk that tried to clear their life best they could of environmentally harmful practices. I nannied for a family who did the same. They fed their son out of glass containers. His toys were stuffed or wooden because the idea of a child exposed to plastic seemed unhealthy. I have no problem with this. As Barbara Kingsolver says in the book that spurred this post, "It is the worst of bad manners ... to ridicule the small gesture."

But then I went to Honduras, where the orphanage I worked at fed 450 mouths out of plastic bowls, plates and cups everyday. It hit me suddenly. There are more harmful things than a plastic bowl. These kids were exposed to a myriad of other dangers, and what can kill you faster than phthalates or BPA is having no food to fill the plastic plate in the first place.  

The two worlds have different dilemmas and different decisions to face obviously but I realized that a dose of reality -- rather a year of reality -- was good for a little perspective.

As part of my job last year, I took photos of the organization's services so that fundraisers could use the images for various marketing materials. I received a nutrition request asking for photos of the children when they were eating a meal. One of my favorite photos of the bunch was of a girl named Escarlet when she was taking a bite from her lunch. While editing, I began to focus on the plate she was eating from and realized that fundraisers would see something they might not like: that lunch for the day was just rice, broth and a lime.

That's eating local for you. All of the organization's produce and meat were raised onsite. Milk and cheese came from the ranch's cows, bread and tortillas were made daily. It wasn't certified organic but the farm never overutilized antibiotics or pesticides, which is not the case for most of Honduras' unregulated produce. But due to the sheer amount of mouths the organization needed to feed and lack of international funding, sometimes eating from the farm's bounty meant eating sopa (at timesjust another name for rice and broth). Veggies would float around there if you were lucky.

On very special celebrations like Easter, we had beans, platanos, avocado, cheese, eggs, tortillas. A bit oily but still, a feast for the eyes and stomach. The organization was doing everything they could to improve the diet but even that came with unforeseen difficulties. Some of the children went up to Guatemala for a soccer tournament and came home complaining about how gross the black beans were (in Honduras, pinto beans were the norm) so you can see how western suggestions like salads for lunch were never too popular.

Cooking is extremely personal to a culture so I never really fought that. I ended up learning a lot from cooking down there that I never expected. One learns most from frugality, and I learned that pancakes, crepes, tortillas, bread, pizza dough, cakes all were accessible to me as a cook because there was never a shortage of flour. I also realized how much eating locally makes sense in terms of climatology. Up north, tomatoes are wonderful in the summer as are greens in the spring and hearty kale and winter squash in the winter. On the other hand, pineapple, bananas, mangoes, papayas tasted heavenly in that Central American heat. 

I'm fortunate that I have enough food on my plate to worry about where it comes from. I'm also glad that before all of that preoccupied me fully, I was taken away from western food concerns and learned how wonderful it is just to have beans alongside your rice.

Pictured above: the rice and broth soup; an Easter feast

No comments: