The Fun That Was Peace Corps Guyana - Mark's Blog

Postings from just north of the equator. Let's see if training in CPR and First Aid prepares me to teach Health Education in a small, remote village in Guyana. I'm thinking... no. Read all about this ill advised decision! In addition, here is the required Peace Corps disclaimer: "The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the US government or the Peace Corps." So, please, don't confuse me with the White House Press Secretary.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Food in Guyana

The past fifteen months have seen me reading a lot of books – namely, sixty-one books so far. Number sixty-two is currently “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” by Michael Pollan. I don’t think I can recommend this book enough. It is a fascinating look into what we, as Americans, eat on a daily basis. He follows the full life, from agricultural origins to dinner plate, of four meals – a fast food meal, an organic meal from Whole Foods, a sustainable meal from local, “beyond organic” producers, and an essentially hunter-gatherer meal of his own devising. It is clearly written, rigorously researched, engaging, and utterly relevant to all of us. Or at least it should be relevant. All of us should be at least somewhat interested in the food we eat and how it gets there. And we shouldn’t refrain from pulling back the curtain for fear of what we will find – the same systems will be there whether we know about them or not. The best we can do is to educate ourselves and to seek out the best choice, whether that be fewer Big Macs, more organic Whole Foods vegetables, or only buying from local, sustainable farmer’s markets (or, maybe for the more adventurous of us, hunting our own game).

Reading this book has made me think about my own food down here in Guyana. In some strange ways, the food I eat and the ingredients I use are “better” than what is offered in America. I know, for instance, that my vegetables are coming from local producers. Hell, I’m usually buying straight from them. Or I’m getting them from my neighbor’s backyard garden. And I know that they are not using crazy synthetic pesticides or chemical fertilizers. Or at least not to the level of the agribusiness in America. I’ve seen the chickens in their chicken coops – it may not be perfect, but it’s a long way from the tiny cages that make the Frankenstein chickens used by Tyson Foods, McDonalds, and KFC. And the beef… well it may not be the best, but the cows are free range and grass feed. I know because I see them wandering the roadside, eating grass (among other things) and getting in the way of cars. What I mean to say is that almost all of my fresh fruit, vegetables, and meat are produced locally and mostly naturally. It’s a true luxury.

So then why do I crave processed foods so much? Why do we crave the waxy apple that is exactly the same as the one next to it? And why do we abhor the natural diversity in appearance that any small scale, all-natural farm is going to produce? Of course if we think about it we can recognize the diversity and benefits of these local producers. But so often we don’t think about it. When I was living just outside of Washington DC before I came to Peace Corps, we had a Saturday farmer’s market about two blocks from my apartment. I would walk by it every week, sometimes even walking through it. But I never bought anything from them. Why? It wasn’t because I didn’t support local growers or all-natural or organic products. It wasn’t because I simply didn’t eat vegetables or fruits. I think it more came down to an ingrained capitalist consumerism that we have all internalized. I would look at these organic tomatoes, each slightly different from the next, and almost unconsciously think “why should I pay $3 a pound for these? I can get nice, uniform-looking ones from Safeway for half the price.” How I feel ashamed now, thinking about how easily I walked past this local farmer’s market every week to, instead, drive to Safeway to buy some mass produced tomatoes from Cargil, ADM, or some other massive agribusiness. Or, if I was feeling guilty, go to Whole Foods and support the big organic producers, an industry that is becoming more and more indistinguishable from its larger, non-organic cousin.

I guess all I’m trying to say is that this fantastic book is making me realize that I’m lucky to be in Guyana, where my only choice when buying produce and meat is to look at local, all-natural producers. It denies the capitalist consumer in me to search for the better price for food at the expense of health, nutrition, and larger moral-political ethics. I strongly encourage everyone to read this book. Hopefully for you, it won’t take a two year trip to a developing country to realize that supporting big agribusiness is probably not the best path to take when trying to decide what to eat for dinner.


At 6:35 PM, Blogger Stephenie said...

I love food too =)

I am an RPCV Benin, and I got a research grant to go to Guyana in January to investigate gold mining practices at the Omai mine in the Essequibo region. Problem is, I have no contacts there and the travel guides are pitifully deficient the Guianas in general. I was hoping that you or someone you know would be able to help, maybe getting me in touch with a dependable NGO that could organize a visit and answer some questions. I would appreciate it so much.

Many thanks and happy eating.


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