Sunday, February 20, 2011

I Like to Eat, Eat, Eat...

...Eepples and Beneenees...

Today I went to the market to replenish my food stores after my week away.  I usually avoid going to town on Sundays since it is the big market day and I just get overwhelmed with the crush of the crowd.  I didn't have much choice with bare shelves, so I waited for the afternoon since things would clear out a bit and headed over around 1:00.  By 2:00 I had purchased fruits and veggies from half a dozen stalls was headed back home with a full tote bag and a wallet about 16Q lighter (about $2).

The apple wasn't bought today, just cleaned today.

The haul:
Onions (2 lbs)
Carrots (a bag of 5)
Avocados (4)
Bell pepper (1)
Chile peppers (5)
Bananas (12 mini-sized)
Tomatoes (1 lb)
Potatoes (1 lb)

Other than price differences, eating produce here requires a few extra steps than those I took back home.  Things like bananas and avocados are easy; just peel, prep (if you care to), and eat.  Pretty much everything else goes through the three containers method.  One bucket to scrub off visible dirt (using chorro water from the tap), ten minutes in the second bucket of chorro water with either bleach or a produce-specific cleaner added in, the third bucket for a quick rinse in bottle water.  

My veggie cleaner of choice
All this purification and hygiene work may seem a bit paranoid of me, and I know many volunteers who don't bother to go through the steps.  I also know some who have fallen sick with horrible digestive stuff from ignoring the precautions.

After all, in the US we just rinse off our produce and eat... not always bothering to rinse it.  However, there is the Clean Water Act in the US.  It's safe to drink tap water in the US (although many choose to filter it even so).  Produce is generally purchased in grocery stores or carefully beautified farmers market stalls.  Human waste goes through wastewater treatment plants in the US.  There are FDA inspectors that check over our food supply.  And yet, there are food recalls and food poisoning problems in the US, too.

Here, the water may be fine, but it may not be.  Sometimes water comes from a spring, but it may come from the river, and who knows what is happening upstream.  Since livestock are found throughout the town between houses and latrines are the human waste disposal system of choice, there are plenty of accessible sources of the dreaded FOC (fecal-oral contamination) to be spread around by flies.  Stalls in the market may store food in baskets or tarps on the ground, close to litter and feces and bugs.  Naturally, it's a buyer beware environment and I watch how people set up their stalls when I choose where to buy.  Still, for me, I don't mind an extra ten or twenty minutes of extra precaution.

The rub is, most of the Guatemalans in my community don't go through these steps.  One more factor contributing to chronic malnutrition.  It's hard for your body to absorb nutrients when your GI is doing its best to evacuate whatever nastiness hitchhiked its way in with your food.  One thing I'm hoping/planning to do is work with the local health post to see if we can raise awareness of the issue, and improve access to the means to remedy it.  Here's hoping!

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