To Quinoa or not to Quinoa

I’m alive!! I have spent the last several days in bed with what I am guessing was the flu. Boy was it horrible, I honestly can’t remember the last time I’ve felt so sick. I considered writing a post about herbal remedies, but none were really Latin American influenced and the best cure for the flu is really just rest, nourshing yet simple foods, and proper hydration. I didn’t take anything except a few drops of eucalyptus oil in a hot bath and it cleared up on its own.

While I was bed bound I spent some time thinking about my diet and health journey. There are a lot of things I can’t eat now and a lot of things I’ve had to limit because they irritate my gut (ex. coffee and spicy foods. So sad!). It often feels like I am re-learning to eat. At this point I can say it has mostly been a positive experience. I feel more in control, sleep better, and have more energy, but at times it seems very tricky and a little overwhelming. It becomes even trickier because I am a bit picky, on a limited budget, and am trying very hard to make ethical food choices.

Quinoa is a beautiful plant

Quinoa is a beautiful plant

Quinoa at first glance seems to be the perfect food; it is high in protein, relatively affordable, and goes down nicely. For awhile it was a fairly regular part of my diet, but there is a huge catch to this super food. Vegetarians and vegans often say that they chose their diets because they are against cruelty which I can respect, but if that is the case then I think we have to examine what we are eating even more closely. Much of the foods and especially health foods we eat are imported from the “global south” which has a very long history of exploitation from Europe and the United States. When we eat these imported foods we do not know under what kinds of conditions they were grown, but can assume that there are often human right’s violations and environmental degradation involved (such as with cultivation of asparagus in Peru or bananas/avocados in the tropics). We really have to look at the consequences of our appetites  on the rest of the world and quinoa is a perfect example.

Since quinoa became trendy the cost of it world-wide has gone up. This means that fewer people in the Andes (where the crop originates) can afford it. This is troubling especially for a poor country like Bolivia where malnutrition is a serious issue. This ancient sacred grain is being replaced by cheap processed food a la USA which is a double whammy punch of colonization. First we drive their prices up and then we sell them cheap processed food, the result has been a dual nutritional burden of stunted growth and obesity. No wonder the USA is so beloved in Bolivia!

I am not writing this post to make anyone feel guilty because I know how difficult eating has become. There are so many things to consider that it is hard not to have some sort of food hang-up. I’ve considered this issue for quite some time and am just really starting to address it. When I was in Ecuador this summer I asked one of our program directors who is Ecuadorian, but has lived in the USA for quite some time if she ate quinoa and what she thought about all this. She basically told me that it was complicated, but she felt you should eat the things your “people” were meant to eat. In her case that meant quinoa in mine… well..I’m still working on that.


Uruguay’s President is a Dream Boat

If you are my friend you are probably surprised that it took me so long to write this post. It is common knowledge that I am obsessed with President José Mujica and his peaceful little country. I often spend afternoons writing “I love Pepe” over and over again and imagining our beautiful little life on a marijuana farm drinking maté and growing flowers on the side. Ok, I don’t really do that, but the thought has obviously crossed my mind.

José Alberto “Pepe” Mujica Cordano has been president of Uruguay since 2010 and since then has earned the titile of “world’s poorest president”. His “poverty” is due to the fact that he donates 90% of his monthly salary to the poor to top it all off he is a vegetarian, drives a beat up Volkswage Beetle, lives in a tiny house on the outskirts of Montevideo, and cultivates and sells chrysanthemums to pay his bills. I’m half passed out from swooning! Continue reading

What the Maya (Didn’t) Say in 2012

Last Friday when social media was abuzz with bad end of the world jokes there was actually something amazing happening in Mexico. Something that showed such dignity that for the first time in a long time I dared to hope.

For those of you who know me you know the rap. Mexico is in crisis. The economy may not be tanking, but the human right’s abuses and a widespread acceptance of corruption leading to impunity make for a nightmarish situation. It is hard to get numbers, but  it is not out of reason to say that since Felipe Calderon declared a War on Drugs there have been hundreds of thousands of causalities. There is little hope that the new President, Enrique Peña Nieto will change this since he is basically a pretty boy puppet of the PRI, the corrupt party that “democratically” ruled the country for over 70 years (1929-2000). Slightly, more surprising than Mexican voter fraud is how un-informed we are in the United States about Mexican politics and history even though we share  nearly 2,000  miles of border. If you want to learn more I’d reccommend checking out Molly Molloy’s Frontera List, anything by Melissa del Bosque or John M. Ackerman and if you are really interested Charles Bowden has written several books worth looking at. I personally think that is some of the best stuff out there on violence in Mexico in English.

Screen shot 2012-12-26 at 12.41.20 PM

Unfortunately, silencing dissent is nothing new in Mexico and that is what brings me to the Maya. If you don’t know about the Zapatistas I strongly encourage you to do some research. Basically, they are indigenous people (different groups who are descendents of the Maya) from the southern state of Chiapas who have formed a mostly non-violent “army” to protect themselves from a State that has a long history of abusing indigenous communities. They gained faim mostly due to their internet presence in the mid 90s back when internet activism was uncharted territory, and are known for occulting their faces with ski masks and their  spokesman, the blue-eyed Subcomandante Marcos.  This is a gross over-simplification of the movement, but I could write dozens of posts about it and still only be scratching the surface.

On December 21st, 2012, 40,000 indigenous men, women(some with infants in their arms), and children, marched  in perfect formation, through the cities of San Cristóbal de las Casas, Ocosingo, Las Margaritas, Comitan, and Altamirano. What is amazing about this march was that it was done in complete silence. In a country where words often mean nothing their silence meant everything. For nearly two decades they have been organizing and in those two decades there have been considerable efforts to stop them. Politicians aren’t going to listen to their demands, but they can’t deny that they are a force to be reckoned with and with social media their struggle is once again taking place on a global stage. I have never seen a march conducted with such dignity and unity and I was frankly saddened when most of my friends did not even know it was going on. I probably wouldn’t have either if I wasn’t such a twitter addict.

The date they chose was no coincidence. Not only was it the end of the Mayan calendar, but it was the day before the 15th anniversary of the massacre at Acteal  where 45 members of an indigienous pacifist group were killed for voicing support of  the efforts of the Zapatistas. This bloody event was carried out by “guerrilla” armies supported by same party of the very recently inaugurated president who also has employed guerrilas in the past when he served as governer of the state of Mexico. I really hope he was scared when he saw how organized they were and that he realized that the people are tired of the fighting and violence. Peaceful protest is becoming the norm  in a country being torn apart by violence. In a country where activism is often frowned upon. Maybe it really is the beginning of a new era.

The Colonized Kitchen?

Since starting my University career I have taken an interest in food, farming and how these two issues tie into social justice especially in Latin America. I followed small organic farmers in rural Puerto Rico, taught gardening and cooking to hispanic youth in Austin, worked in a left-y bar (whiched I dubbed the Communist Party) in Brazil, volunteered on farms, and along with one of my closest friends helped found “The Food Studies Project” at the University of Texas in Austin. All of these experiences culimated in an internship with La Poderosa Media Project in Bahia de Caraquez, Ecuador.

View of Bahia de Caraquez

Photo taken by the beautiful and talented Allison Corbett

Every summer La Poderosa offers an intensive film making workshop to teenagers in South America with the help of students from universities in the USA. The American students get the benefit of the workshops and the opportunity to take Spanish lessons while fully immersed in another culture and language. I had heard about them years ago, but did not need Spanish lessons. Luckily, the group had decided to make a short documentary about traditional Ecuadorian cooking and needed an intern. I was more than happy to take the position even though I knew absolutely nothing about Ecuadorian cuisine.

Typical plate in coastal Ecuador. Also by Allison Corbett.

The idea was to get young people excited about their traditional cuisine in an age where fast convenient foods dominate, and dietary related illnesses are on the rise. My job was to interview locals and write down recipes and food habits from the past and present and help select who would be filmed. Nearly all expressed that people were healthier in the past and feared for the health of their younger counterparts. I also could see the pride they took in sharing their traditions with an outsider who was interested in learning about their culture. That is when the idea for this blog came to me.

Traditional food prep by Allison Corbett.

When it comes to food colonization happens in several ways. The most obvious is when the colonizer takes massive amounts of resources from the colonized (ex. coffee, bananas, avocados) this has been going on since Europeans “discovered” the Americas and does not look like it will be changing any time soon. Another and perhaps less talked about form of colonization is cultural. Many cultures are loosing their food traditions in favor of convenience foods to the detriment of their well-being. In a fast-paced, globalized world it is understandable…most of us are overworked, tired and underpaid, but I firmly believe that food IS culture and to lose those traditions would be to lose ourselves and our history. Luckily, there seems to be a growing resistance and this blog is but one manifestation of the local/traditional food movement.

In this blog I will share recipes, anecdotes, and a bit of politics from Latin America in an attempt to decolonize my own kitchen. I will try to use as many local and seasonal products as possible and speak to my local organic farmers who are waging their own battles against the conventional agricultural machine. I look forward to embarking on this adventure! Stay tuned for some recipes from my Mexican grandma.

p.s. If you liked the photos in this post check out Allison’s blog