Here’s a double-post for my pals on Goodreads. I’m reading Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and there’s no better place to be reading it than here in a rural part of a developing country. If you’re not familiar with the book, it’s her family's account of a year of living off of only local food (they had to know the person who grew or raised it). So far it seems to be about half about their reasons for doing it (the politics, economics, science of it), and half about the methods (how asparagus grows, how they set up their garden). For food fanatics like me, it’s awesome.
It takes on a new significance here. The town and its economies have changed a lot since I first came here, and there are lots of imported items available. But still, people are much more connected to the land and what it offers us. Asan (and now Khalida) are a wealth of information about the plants around us. We take walks down the driveway and scavenge nibbles from the side of the road. There’s a tree (pochote) with large, shiny, dark-green leaves you can eat. It’s got a nice tang to it, and eating it makes me feel better for the complete absence of anything else green in my diet here. Jules loves it. There are a handful of trees on the driveway with berries and seeds we can eat: nances, lenguas de vaca (you should see the leaves), and others. Asan came in yesterday with a fresh coconut, two spoons, and two straws for my kids to drink the milk and scrape out the yummy insides.
I LOVE that the kids are really learning where food comes from. Our eggs come from Asan’s mother’s house, and the kids search for the loot in the garage where the chickens have taken up nesting. Starting today, we’re going to get our milk fresh from Asan’s grandmother’s cows. The honey came from a hive on the property.
On the other hand, I’m learning things that make me see how easy it is for us to lose our food culture, for it to be perverted into the kind of food-comes-from-the-supermarket mentality that we have in the States. A little local geography: The center of Montezuma is at the beach. Khal's house is about a mile inland toward Cobano, the nearest town with facilities like a bank, schools, clinic, etc. Cobano is only 7 km from the ocean, but never, in the entire time I lived here, did I see someone eating fish. I talked to Asan about this yesterday, and he told me that the fish he used to serve in his Cobano restaurant came from Puntarenas, about 4 hours—including a ferry ride!—away! He also bets that it was caught down the road from Montezuma, and shipped to Puntarenas for distribution. There is no fish market in this entire region, despite the fact that we live less than 1 km from the ocean. If we want to eat fish, we have to ask Ana, Khal’s housekeeper who lives among fishermen down the road from Montezuma, to bring us the catch of the day. The other day she brought us a whole red snapper (which Max gallantly descaled, by the way) that had been caught the day before. It easily fed five adults the most delicious fish I have ever tasted, and cost us $4.50 total. But there is no easy way to make it a part of our diet, and the Ticos who don't live or have relatives living specifically ON the beach, have virtually no way to acquire it regularly.
I also learned that the avocados, which are a staple of the diet here, now come from Mexico. Fifteen years ago, Marcos and Emilia used to keep a potato sack full of avocados in the kitchen. They collected them from the tree in Marcos’s mother’s yard. But apparently in the intervening years, an invading, non-local termite snuck in—the local theory is that they came in on the bales of imported telephone wire, but it’s easy to see why locals would blame technology—and ate all of the avocado trees. In fifteen years, they went from having an avocado per person per day for free, to having to import them and pay American prices for them. Such an awesome source of good fats and nutrients…and now the non-wealthy can’t afford them. So sad.
Don't want to end on such a depressing note...Ummm... I am learning to make some Tico foods (gallo pinto, tortillas from scratch) and will be able to take that skill with me back to Texas. Oh, and I'll never be satisfied with HEB-brand dried black beans again. There's got to be a better source in the US of A. The beans they eat here have such full, rich flavor all by themselves, nothing added. It's a good thing, too, since we eat them three times a day, and sometimes for an afternoon snack!