Grocery shopping in the United States perfectly exemplifies the best and worst parts about our home country.
On the one hand, there’s not just one, but often three or more well-stocked, organized, squeaky clean, and enticing grocery stores within a ten mile radius, carrying a multitude of brands and an impossible variety of items, all promising to precisely define me, my tastes, and my socio-economic status.
And, sadly, my heart goes pitter-patter whilst sinking in expectant financial slaughter every time I walk through those automatic sliding doors.
I heart ‘n’ hate you Whole Foods!!!!
But it’s not just the inflated costs that rile me up. It’s the factory farming. It’s the fact that we transport our food at a criminally high carbon footprint, that we have more GMO produced food in the U.S. than anywhere else in the world and do not even require disclosure, that we feed our cows corn causing them to grow E.coli and then pump them full of steroids and antibiotics.
It’s the fact that corporations control and taint our food supply (and our government by lobbying) in the U.S., and even most recently, the organic elite has signed onto the evil ways of Monsanto. If you don’t know about this topic, check out these links and movies to start:
Great movie illustrating how corporatized our food supply has become:
A History of Monsanto:
The Organic Elite Surrenders to Monsanto:
But this post isn’t about that.
This post is about shopping in the mercados of latin America. And why I love them.
For one, they’re disorienting, a tad dangerous, colorful, frenetic, kind of smelly, messy, and always require active participation if I want to obtain what I’m looking for. There’s no aimlessly walking down the aisles plopping food into my basket.
No, shopping at the mercado is more like playing a sport. I have to be on-guard, aggressive, have a strong defense, and always keep my eye on the potato.
In other words, they are decidedly un-American. They lack all of our expected and efficient virtues, and, therefore, they are far more fun.
Check out the scary and excitingly primal meat aisle. Refrigeration… optional.
I love latin american markets because I buy my fruit, vegetables, meats, fish, grains, legumes, and oddities straight from the people that produced them.
No corporate behemoths here.
I buy a kilo of gorgeous fresh-caught Toyo for $5. (That’s 2.2 pounds, for my fellow Americans….again, why the #$%! are we not on the metric system?!)
Fun fact: Did you know that the potato originated in Peru and that there are about five-thousand potato varieties worldwide. Three thousand of them are found in the Andes alone, mainly in Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Chile and Colombia.
Do the math folks, that means there could be five-thousand varieties of french fries.
Not-so-fun fact: Genetically modified species are wiping out heirloom varietals, threatening to leave us with only a fraction of corporate branded, chemically twisted franken-foods.
And then there are these freaky little eggs. Not sure what to make of them, but one time Tree drank one in his beer (Watch Video).
Here comes my FAVORITE part about the mercados. Enter the Witch’s Market!!
What ails you? Heartburn, diarrhea, back pain, constipation, cancer, malaria, frigidity, dengue, depression, halitosis, or anxiety?
The Mercado de Brujo has your remedy.
Got worms crawling out of your mouth? How about some Parasithol?
Joking aside, I actually went to the Mercado de Brujo in search of Sangre de Drago (meaning, Blood of the Dragon, sometimes called Sangre de Grado, as well). Our friends Julio and Lauren gifted us a vial of it back in Cajamarca, and Tree used the whole thing on his nose after the fan attack, (remember that incident here). It worked wonders!!! I can’t speak for all of the witchy potions of Peru, but I empirically support Sangre de Grado–a sap that comes out of some Andean tree–that acts as a 100% natural anti-bactertial salve for flesh wounds. (Kiki used it after her mole removal, and Mongo used it on his butt…. both had positive results.)
I have to say, these men make terrible Brujos. I expected to see a coven of old ladies wearing pointy shoes and funny hats, not a bunch of dudes wearing sneakers and fanny-packs.
Do you need a widget, speakers, a keyboard, weapons, or the left sneaker of a Nike set…come to the black market.
This animal section of the mercado breaks my heart wide open. Poor babies. I wish I could set them all free.
Just outside of Huanchaco, we have a fancy grocery store, too, fully equipped with florescent lighting, cellophane, and refrigeration. We shop at both this fancy store, called Tottus, and the local mercados. I prefer the mercados, where no corporate marketing campaign or design strategy attempts to steer my choices, but there are some things–like gin and wine–that I just can’t find there.
And, besides that, sometimes the American in me needs to putter down the aisles with my big tin cart ready to be filled, eyes glazed over in manufactured affinity for packages with smiling faces on the front. It’s like a little piece of apple-pie. I pick up three different brands of toilet paper, and I ask myself, what kind of a toilet paper shopper am I? Do I buy generic Tottus 24-packs, or, do I fork over a few extra soles for the Elite Suave, the Peruvian equivalent of Charmin? Back in the States, I knew exactly what kind of shopper I was, and what the things I bought said about me.
But, here in Peru, the packages seem to have lost their meaning. And it feels good.