In Colombia I noticed that some of the ingredients were as fresh as I could ask for! They tasted like they were organic, they may have even came out of the garden only hours before being served. It’s amazing how fresh and full of flavor those fruits and vegetables were!
I spent quite a bit of time discussing food quality and freshness with the locals (as much as my limited Spanish allows) especially when it came to what kind of growth environment exists here. The farms that I passed were beautiful, lush, green cow pastures, where the cows were all wandering around, eating grass with complete autonomy within the fences. They looked happy, satisfied, and the grass was bright green, healthy grass that will produce healthy cows and great quality meat. I was not surprised, since I’ve believed for some time that this was normal here.
The vegetable farms were similarly lush, filled with life. The plants were bright green, and the vegetables that were maturing in the fields were as vibrant and exciting as you could hope for! In the region that I was traveling through, there was no capacity for pesticides in the fields; there were no hoses, no modern delivery methods, and the fields were all small, single-family owned fields, so there was no chance that the vegetables were being produced using crop dusters and large corporate pesticide tactics. These were hand-tended fields. It was beautiful.
There’s Another Story There
Speaking with the locals, however, suggests that there is a another, newer story. Apparently animal hormones and antibiotics have started to invade Colombia. And much like the US in the 90’s, there’s no way to know if you’re eating healthy, grass-fed cows, or hormone raised feed-lot cows. There are no labeling laws in effect to inform the consumers. Unfortunately, the same seems to be true of vegetables.
On my way home the very same night, I noticed that each of the single-family farms had a person sitting near the road with a few bags at her (usually a young girl) feet. I asked what the bags were. I was told that since the large grocery stores no longer purchase the produce from the local farmers, they pack them in bags and bring them out to the roads to sell to people driving by. I had two simultaneous thoughts.
I would be out here EVERY DAY if I lived in Medellin!
What?!? The grocery stores don’t buy from these guys?!? Where do they buy their produce?!???!!!
I’m not going to lie. It was the second thought here that managed to work its way out of my mouth. I was overfilled with a combination of astonishment and horror. How could the 4-million people living in Medellin possibly prefer something not locally grown to this beautiful, organic, CHEAP produce? What could possibly be more appetizing, more appealing, more delicious than these amazing fruits and vegetables? How could there be so many people, so many mouths to feed, so close by without taking advantage of this tremendously amazing resource? It just boggled my mind.
My wife couldn’t pass up such a fortuitous opportunity. We stopped at the next top-of-the-line grocery store. A place called Carulla. The setup is very similar to Whole Foods Market, with the same kinds of colors and layout. There’s space in all the right places, while filling your eyes with the greens and reds of excellent looking produce. It’s clearly intended to attract the same kind of customers as Whole Foods Market attracts here in the US.
I walked in with my wife and she took me straight to the salad bar.
This is what a Colombian Salad Bar looks like.
She said, waiting for a reaction. Of course, she’s married to a food blogger. So when I frantically reached for my pocket, pulling out my cellphone as quickly as I could, she took that as the reaction that she was looking for. I don’t think she really expects a verbal response most of the time; she assumes that she’s hit her mark when I start pawing at my pocket, trying to capture the moment so that I can share it with you all! And no, I don’t walk around with the phone already in my hand and ready for the shot. I do have to dig, every single time.
Now that you’ve heard all that; take another peak at the picture at the top of the post. What do you see there? No salad? That’s right. A salad to a typical Colombian is an avocado and a banana. That’s it. A top-quality salad bar, like the one here at Carulla, has yogurt, cheese, and fruit. That’s a top of the line salad bar.
You want salad? What are you, American?
I’m actually not sure if that’s a joke…
Colombia Enters the Chemical Age
So, according to the people I was speaking with, Colombia is coming in to the age of chemicals. The wonderful near-utopia of perfectly cared-for deep brown earth and bright, beautiful plants will soon be covered with a haze of toxic, noxious gasses, designed to kill any living creature that comes in contact with it. The cows, currently wandering aimlessly across deep forest-green grasses and eating whatever it feels like, whenever it feels like it, will soon be replaced by the chemical laden franken-cows that our US Big-Agra businesses are trying to pass off as something edible, and what’s worse, desirable.
Unfortunately for Colombia, they’re being bombarded by the best marketing organizations in all of human history (perhaps; Nero was quite effective) and the people there are woefully unprepared to ask the kinds of reasonable, thoughtful questions that we ask here. Why? Because not 20 minutes drive from the city-center of a city with a population of nearly 4 million people is lush green farmland, filled with truly organic, beautiful crops. How could the food on their shelves possibly be bad for them?!?
I know. I couldn’t believe it either. And I actually know better. I know what the right questions are, how to ask them, and what to do to stay healthy when the answer is unsatisfactory. I know how to recognize the kind of food that isn’t prepared with the love and care that I prepare my own food. And I know that I should be expecting that that very lack of care in food preparation also probably means that the food purchased was bottom quality. I know all this. And I was still surprised.
Imagine the uphill climb those unsuspecting, trusting Colombians have ahead of them.
It makes me shudder.
What does that mean?
Just like everything else here in the US, the key is information. It turns out that the farmers are using pesticides because it’s required by the companies here in the US that are importing the foods.
Yes, they’re using pesticides, hormones, and antibiotics because we, here in the US, are requiring them to. They are ruining their paradisiacal farmland with terrifyingly awful chemicals, the very ones that we’re trying to get our companies to abandon here in the US, because we are requiring that imported produce be irradiated and sprayed. We’re requiring that their cows be pumped full of hormones and antibiotics. We, here in the US, are requiring that of their exports.
I can hazard a guess (yep; I used “hazard” there on purpose) as to why this is happening. But that’s really not what I want to do. What I want is to go back to Colombia and eat fresh, truly natural, truly local, truly organic food. Food that’s raised by farmers who have been farming the same land for generations. Food that those farmers loved, cared for, and apply the art of farming to that has been perfected and passed on from father to son. I want food that tastes like it’s been loved.
I want that here. And I want it there.