Saturday, 22 February 2014

Perspectives on eating, from afar

Nothing like travelling to somewhere completely different from home to shake up your perspective.  I just got back from Nicaragua, a country rich in sunshine, heat, colour, fresh food, and life, but not in $$$.  Now that I'm back home in snowy, grey, dull, produce-impoverished but ridiculously affluent Ontario, my trip photos remind me of views of food and eating from a new vantage point.

When I go to new places I love to try the unusual food that is endemic to that area. (Unless I'm in Oaxaca where the local speciality happens to be grasshoppers - then some primal part of my brain mutinies from the adventure.  Or I'm in a diner serving "chipped beef".  Never eat that.  Don't believe the smiling waitress with the warm southern drawl. You will definitely gag.)  In Matagalpa "steam-table" buffets were abundant, and Lonely Planet rated this place highly.  Although it may not be obvious from my plate of food, I wasn't that hungry.  So, I passed on several items on the buffet and chose only the most delicious-looking things.  Also, the portions the ladies scooped out were large, so I shared mine with my sweetheart.  Mindful!

Matagalpa is also well-known for its coffee. Although I had just had a cup of strong coffee at our hotel, and we were a bit rushed, AND I was already buzzing a little, I was determined to sit at a local cafe and enjoy a cup of coffee.  Because the guidebooks said I should.  The coffee was good, but I didn't actually want or need it and had to gulp it down kinda fast. Not mindful.

Everywhere we stayed offered a huge, protein-packed traditional breakfast - often eggs, salsa, fried plantains, rice and beans, and fruit or cheese (for which you shell out about 2 to 5 bucks).  These breakfasts would last us well into the afternoon, even after spending a morning in the ocean or hiking.  Since I've been back home I've tried beefing up my breakfast smoothies so that I can last longer until lunch - just like on our trip!  Except it's not working here.  Sitting at a desk thinking really hard must suck more energy out of me than paddling into waves for a couple of hours did.  Weird.

One night our hosts took us to a local home for a BBQ dinner.  They really talked it up: "The meat is super-fresh - the animals were killed yesterday!".  What an excellent endorsement.  If pigs in Canada lived like this one resting in its family's yard, I'd eat a lot more pork.  The BBQ was delicious. 

Many meals came with huge chunks of chewy salty cheese from these cows, which get herded along the roads between fields each day.  We saw a lot of calves nursing from their mothers - a sight not often seen on dairy farms in Ontario.  It was a treat to be so close to the source of our food.

When you see where food comes from, you may be less likely to waste it. Wasting includes consuming it when you don't really want or need it.  How many pots of coffee get poured down our gullets, or down the drain, every single day?  After my coffee gluttony in Matagalpa we stayed at La Sombra shade-grown coffee farm/ecolodge.  We saw toucans and sloths on these farms, which made me feel righteous for seeking out fair-trade organic coffee at home, like the kind they sell at Coffeeco here in Kingston. These families (including kids) work 9 or more hours a day, 6 days a week during the coffee harvest, picking and sorting the coffee. It's exhausting, sometimes dangerous work (on account of the venomous snakes that may be resting in the coffee shrubs), but these are considered to be good jobs.  The workers get 2 or 3 meals of rice and beans a day on the farm.  It is fascinating to learn about what my choices at home translate to many countries away.  I felt very very lucky to have been born in Canada.

Sugar-addiction is universal, and sugarcane is a major crop in Nicaragua.  Matagalpa was celebrating its anniversary and vendors everywhere sold fantastical sugary monstrosities.  And yet all the children we encountered were incredibly well-behaved, even on standing-room only 2 hour school-bus rides through the mountains...

I wonder who put a visit to the Cocoa Castle on the itinerary?  Two women work in this tiny factory to transform beans into bars for Nicaraguans to enjoy, adding only sugar and a bit of coffee and cashews for flavouring.  The chocolate is rich, with a grainy texture that comes from the way the beans are ground.  Its intensity makes it binge-proof.  I savoured my sample with a black coffee.  Clarification for the observant: Although I am wearing the same shirt in every picture, these were not all taken on the same day.  We like to travel light.  So I didn't buy a 1 kilo bar of their baking chocolate, since I didn't want my carry-on to be overweight.  Yes, we wouldn't want too much chocolate making our "carry-on" overweight, would we?

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