Archive for November, 2012

In Manhattan, you are able to find all kinds of fruits, vegetables, and meat – organic, semi-organic, biodynamic, processed, injected with hormones – you name it, you got it. There are options, endless options that cater to the environmentalists, semi-environmentalists, the green-washed and those looking for the best deal. With all these options, I naturally grew to be spoiled. I became accustomed to pushing my squeaking shopping cart amidst the old ladies at the market, right into the organic produce aisle. “Oh, they have organic apples this week, well hold on, before I can pick these apples, let me see where they are sourced from – from New York.  Local and organic. Check. Check.”

Even better, when I was working on Threshold Farm, one of my beloved family members would drive up to the Hudson Valley to pick me up and drag me back to the concrete jungle periodically. Whenever they showed up to the farm, donning business suits or designer flats in typical NYC fashion, I seized the opportunity to load up on fresh, organic, biodynamic, grown-with-love veggies that I had picked that same morning. Consciously choosing my food was easy, and accessible – a part of the culture, even a part of the latest fashion. Boy was I thrown for a loop when control was taken away, options diminished and I found myself in a food desert.

During my Peace Corps training I lived with a host family in the Historical Center of Querétaro in México. The Peace Corps contract with the host families puts forth that the families provide trainees with all meals. Now you have a general discussion when you first meet the host families about your diet preferences, but like I said, this is when you first meet the families – your first day off the plane from the US. You can imagine that you don’t want to start listing all these intricacies in your diet that you want realized, and be that person. Tack on your lack of Spanish, your anxiety, and your desperate desire for integration. Yea, that conversation didn’t even have a glimmer of hope of going far for any of us trainees.

And so, for three months you are to eat whatever is put it in front you. Meat, tortillas, some more meat, beans, and quesadillas of course. Then you got your occasional dinner of pig skin in chili. Oh, and you can forget about being a vegetarian here, or a once in a blue moon meat eater as I was. Meat is the norm, the rule, the option. Anything green on your plate, you meet with overwhelming delight. You exclaim in glee when presented with a plateful of shredded Iceberg-type lettuce, that a few months before, you quickly would have pushed aside. The watery lettuce is such a rarity that it is worth the risk of intestinal trouble later on in the evening. Thus, as three months of training quickly slipped away, I went from an occasional, let me treat myself to an organic grass-fed burger girl, to a full-fledged carnivore. To add insult to injury, I had no idea where my meat was coming from.

Now, Mexicans also have a love affair with sugar. When I first noticed the poor quality of many Mexicans’ teeth, I thought it was the water. As a result, I decided, obsessively, that I was only going to rinse my mouth with bottled water when brushing my teeth, an expensive endeavor, but for someone fanatical about dental hygiene, totally worth it. A few more days of observations brought me to conclude that I was throwing money down the sink. It was obvious that Mexicans’ overwhelming consumption of sugar – snacks and soda – was to blame for the absence of any Orbit smiles.  Packaged, processed snacks of the likes of Ding-Dongs, Twinkies, are consumed without an afterthought. Then come the chips of every size, shape, and artificial flavor. And what do we have to wash it all down? Not my teeth brushing bottled water. No, it’s Coca-Cola, and you better believe it’s on the table with breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

At first, I got suckered into the snacking world that is Mexico. I ate my fair share of cookies and even chips. I’m going to blame it on the need for integration and the fear of turning down food for the concern of being rude. It’s more probable that it’s just plain hard to resist these snacks sometimes, especially when everyone around you is eating them and your choices are chips or a banana (keep in mind that you probably had a banana every day that week). Luckily my short-lived snacking habit was easier to kick than the meat-eating custom. I just took to carrying a banana with me so I always have the option to say, thank you, but I have this great banana. Now the chips aren’t even an option. Hey, it works.

Surely, you must be thinking, this diet has to have an affect on Mexicans’ health and lifestyle. Indeed, it does. For starters, Mexico has beaten the US for the grand title of the world’s fattest country.  Who ever thought that was possible? This isn’t my point though. My point here is, God, how easy it is to be a conscious food consumer when you have options! I can laugh at myself with how spoiled I was in Manhattan – where there is more education and more emphasis placed on a healthy diet. Since I have arrived in Mexico for my Peace Corps service, consciously choosing my food has been far from easy. I have met roadblock after roadblock, and have been feeling like I have been the worst environmentally as I ever have been in my life.

Sustainable food production and consumption, along with the promotion of a healthy diet is my passion, and now my passion has been put to the test.  I need to find a way to stick to my morals and convictions, while learning about and navigating the hardships people face to do the same when the options just don’t exist. During the next few months, as I become more adjusted to Huimilpan, my home for the next few years, I hope to start unraveling the many challenges of maintaining a healthy diet while living in rural Mexico. Inspiration has hit as well. I’ve got a suspicion that  my project here will focus on providing healthier options to the Mexicans that are sure to become my friends, my peers, and my co-workers. In the meantime, I will continue to turn down the offer of Coca-Cola to wash down my eggs and toast.

* This post is based on my own observations of food consumption in Mexico. Mexico is a huge country, and I’m sure there are many different eating habits that exist within it. Please don’t take my experience as a generalization of Mexico.

the twigster,


PS: I hope you all had a great Turkey Day! I was thinking of the Macy’s Day Parade while making goody bags to pass out to the children of Huimilpan this Christmas season. Hopefully this post won’t make you feel too guilty about how much you ate yesterday.



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La Catrina dons her
best red sequined dress.
Swishing and swaying,
she will visit her loved ones today.

As she sets out for her trip, the
scent of marigolds finds her and
Clings to the red shiny
details of her embroidered dress.

The sequins, the smell.
They are everywhere.
They celebrate the season.
They celebrate the dead.

They celebrate the life.

Candles light the path of the souls.
The path of the souls to the feast.

As she walks along in her feathered hat,
La Catrina finds her offerings.

Sweet and sugary Pan de Muerto,
A Circle. A circle of bones.

The circle of life.

Friends and family join La Catrina.
Join La Catrina to celebrate
the season
the dead
the life.

A calavera, a skull, and a marigold
Stop to sing and join in her praise,
to celebrate
her season.

the twigster and her sister,
Josephine & Francesca

PS: Only one more full week of Peace Corps training before I become a Peace Corps volunteer. No puedo creerlo.


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