Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Vegetables for Breakfast

March 12, 2016

I think we are pleasing our cooks. They are definitely pleasing us. Our breakfasts are early and sustaining. Soup, squash, tamales, eggs, fresh papaya at the peak of ripeness, salsa, tortillas, fresh juice and good coffee are all on the menu. Because most of us live close to the land and appreciate this sort of diet we are enthusiastic eaters.
Later in the week they will cook us ants. They are doing this because we have eaten their food with such reverence and appreciation. Ants are a sacred dish and they must be appreciated and honored as such. We are looking forward to this experience.
After our breakfast and morning check in, which happens on the roof of the hostel  where we can see over into the hills surrounding the city, we piled into a bevy of Taxis. Each taxi was given a card explaining exactly where we were to be dropped off. And each taxi followed the directions perfectly. However, like a recipe for a cake, some turned out differently than others. Some of us were dropped off at a different ‘across from the police academy’ than the rest. There were enough of us that we weren’t concerned and carried on conversations, looked at the finches in the trees, enjoyed the beautiful, clear morning and finally realized something must not be quite right.
I’m not exactly sure how we connected with the proper place; it is one of the joys of this trip for me, I am not in charge of anything. I feel a bit disconcerted when something like this gets taken care of without the need for my input or problem solving but it is an inward disconcertion and I get over it quite quickly.
Our little group was ushered around the corner, across the street where the rest of the group was anxiously waiting and wondering about us. I’ll never know why an address wasn’t the proper way of telling our drivers where to go. Such is the way of being in Oaxaca.
The rest of the morning we heard from an NGO which works on land rights, human rights and sustainability issues with the indigenous peoples of Oaxaca. EDUCA began work in Oaxaca in 1994, when NAFTA came into being. While NAFTA was supposed to be a good thing for the developing economy and industry of Mexico, it has proved to be a disaster.
I continue to be astounded that, when talking about the income streams for the people of Oaxaca, multinational industry dollars is never mentioned. The ‘financial benefits’ of Canadian Mining interests, Danish wind energy production, US farming technology is not a reality. Instead, all the money generated by those industries is being taken out of Oaxaca. Leaving behind deeper poverty, higher unemployment and ecological damage.
EDUCA and the other NGO’s we spoke with are trying to advocate for the indigenous people of Oaxaca by giving voice and helping to organize the civil society that emerged in the early 2000’s. Unlike typical western philosophy, these NGO’s are trying to improve the economy of the people of Oaxaca by encouraging small farms, local sustainability measures and strengthening the assets of the communal way of life that is traditional in Oaxaca.
As we listened and experienced the work of the NGO’s in building community we saw first hand how they are building these assets. EDUCA seems to be focusing on giving voice and advocacy resources to the various language and indigenous groups within Oaxaca.  
While everyone speaks Spanish and is Mexican, there is a strong local culture and allegiance within the indigenous groups that make up the state of Oaxaca. These groups are being validated and respected by the NGO’s we heard from.
This must be incredibly empowering. I remember the first time I was given voice as a clergy woman and respected for who I was completely. I remember, still, what it felt like to be disempowered because of my gender and gifts. I think it must be the same in some ways. To know that who you are is something to be honored, respected and given authority and autonomy. To know that your simple, humble, and low impact way of life might be the salvation of your community. To know that being a campesino within your own particular indigenous group is of value to your community and your country and even the world opens up a whole new way of being.

After the presentation at EDUCA we piled back into taxis and all landed in the same spot at the same time: El Pochote Market. This is an oasis of beautiful food and folk art in the center of an upscale area of Oaxaca. The Catholic Church, Iglesia Xochimilco, allows the market space on their beautiful commons area. The offerings at El Pochote are organic. The delegation spread out and discovered all sorts of wonderful things for lunch. I had a strange combination of rice, beans and grains in a patty. It was a fusion of Korean and Mexican. It was yummy. But not so filling that I couldn’t also enjoy a cup of latte and a lime ice. We are learning that the lemon flavored drinks we are being offered are made from the leaves of the lemon trees, not the fruit. The taste reminds us of lemon balm.
This is another wonderful thing we are learning about Oaxacan cuisine. They find a use for much more of the plant than we do. Like the squash plant, they eat stems, leaves, buds, as well as the fruit. Foraging is a way of life for the people of the village. In town, real cooks go to the open air markets for their bits and pieces to enhance their meals with local flavor.

Those patties in the upper right were what I ate for my lunch
Another theme we are hearing is the concern the growers and NGO’s have for the health of the people of Oaxaca. The market isn’t set up just because people think organic is the way to be, the market is set up so that there is access to healthy alternatives in a country that is seeing high rates of diabetes, obesity and heart disease because of the introduction of cheap, highly processed foods. We will spend some amazing days with women who are blind because of diabetes and it broke our hearts. To hear the passion of the growers and managers of wanting to see their country’s people learn to eat healthy again was so inspiring. What if we marketed our CSA’s and organic and local products, not as an economic benefit but as, primarily a health benefit for our neighbors because we are concerned for our neighbor’s health? Would that make a difference?

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