Tag Archives: food safety

To Market, To Market: Distinfecting and Eating Fresh Food in Mexico

Probably one of the most fun things to do living here in Oaxaca, or anywhere else in Mexico for that matter, is shopping for the abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables available in the local markets.

It’s easy to get carried away: A dozen mandarin oranges for 10 pesos. A huge papaya, ripe and ready to eat, 20 pesos. A bunch of 8 bananas from Chiapas, 18 pesos. Squash from the vine, 7 pesos. A perfect cabbage, 10 pesos. Eight large Roma tomatoes, 12 pesos. Melon, otherwise known as cantaloupe north of the border, is 37 pesos. A perfect bright orange sweet pepper is 8 pesos.

For example, today’s exchange rate is almost 19 MXN pesos to $1 USD at the ATM. I can eat for about $35 USD a week here if I don’t eat out. That leaves a lot more for handmade huipiles!

I don’t live in Mexico because of the prices or the great food. I live here because of the culture, history, art and generosity of the people. But, the prices are a bonus!

Teotitlan del Valle market produce

Too many times, I return from the market with a shopping cart-full of fresh fruit and vegetables. After about two-hours of making my way down the aisles and through the stands and getting my bags into the house, I know this is just the beginning!

It will take me another chunk of time to process the food. I don’t mean using the food processor! I mean, sorting, separating, disinfecting and storing what I have bought. Nothing goes in the refrigerator without being disinfected.

Living here requires food sanitation diligence. If one errs on the side of cutting corners, the digestive system will rebel and cause permanent disruption of the intestinal tract, often requiring strong antibiotics and visits to a gastroenterologist. None of us wants that, so we disinfect.

I use a product called Microdyne. The instructions call for using from one to fifteen drops, depending on what needs disinfecting. I use the maximum: 15 drops for 1 liter of water to clean fruit and veggies, letting them soak for 30 minutes. Depending on what I’ve bought, like fresh lettuce or chard or cabbage, I will rinse the sand and dirt off the leaves first before the Microdyne soak.

All the fruit and vegetables need to be completely covered in water. If not, then you need to turn them to make sure the other side has soaked, too.

As you can see, all this could take the better part of a morning! I want you to know that I don’t spend all my time going shopping for textiles or ceramics out and about in Oaxaca! I go food shopping several times a week because fresh food matters.

Here’s what they say in and around Lake Chapala, Jalisco, about disinfecting, too.

Most of us prefer to eat food we buy from our local markets. We know that it is probably organic. Here, in Teotitlan del Valle, the fields are fertilized with cow manure, and that means we need to pay special attention to sanitizing what is grown locally.

I will often ask in restaurants if they disinfect their salads, fruits and veggies. Of course we do, they say. I know restaurants that buy pre-packaged and pre-washed lettuce to serve to customers. I suppose it’s okay but who knows. I trust the salad I make at home.

A papaya big enough to last a week!

If you are visiting, what to do? What to eat? You are safe with cooked vegetables, grilled and roasted meats, baked potatoes, rice, and any fruits that you can peel. In restaurants, I will often order verduras al vapor, steamed vegetables that have been completely cooked. I will also order a glass of water from the large purified bottle of water — un vaso de agua de garrafon — that is used in the kitchen for food prep instead of buying a small bottle of water that adds on to the cost of a meal and the world’s carbon footprint.

Whew! Whirlwind Weaving Workshop — August 2008 Notes

It’s Wednesday morning in Teotitlan del Valle and I’m just able to catch my breath.  Five women are here for the weaving and natural dyeing workshop with Federico Chavez Sosa and his daughter Janet in their casa at Francisco I. Maderio #55.   On Sunday morning, I met three of them for the first time at the B&B where they are staying in the village.  Two are North Carolina friends who are directors at the NC Arts Incubator in Siler City.  Who are these adventurous women who have gathered together in a small Zapotec village to learn traditional natural dyeing techniques and to try their hand at learning tapestry weaving on a two-harness pedal loom.  One is an artist and art teacher from Philadelphia; one directs the sustainable agriculture project at Yale University; one is an architect from NYC; one grows sheep and goats to spin their wool; and one is an arts supporter.  We are all muy simpatico because of our interest in being here.

On Sunday morning we hopped on the local bus to go to the Tlacolula market, which became an all day event.  Meandering through the streets that are transformed to market stalls we saw all forms of commercial enterprise: vendors selling hardware, avocados, clay and plastic dinnerware, papaya, pineapple, light fixtures, blue jeans, locally woven baskets in all sizes, handmade aprons intricately embroidered, handwoven hammocks in single and double widths, tablecloths loomed in the village down the highway, handwoven rugs, huipils, dresses, blouses, underwear, blue jeans, fresh roasted corn hot on the grill, alebrijes, and more, and more, and more.  Definitely a shopper’s paradise.  We snaked through the small passageways, past the fresh vegetable and fruit stands, and into the area where the meat is sold, in the permanent arcade opposite from the church.  There, we went to the vendor I like, Carneceria Augustin, where the meat is especially soft and fresh, and she cut 6 pieces, one for each of us.  Her daughter assistant put them on the wood fired charcoal grill in the center of the wide aisle to grill them, along with the tomatoes, tomatillos, peppers, and sweet onions we had purchased along the way.  Giovanna bought the tortillas. Sue went off to get the fresh baked rolls from the bakery section.  We pulled out the limes and avocados and asked our vendor hostess to cut them for us.  When all was done, we went out to the church courtyard and sat along the flower gardens to eat our lunch, squeezing fresh lime juice on the mixture of meat and vegetables, wiping our faces with the paper towels used to carry our food, grinning in satisfaction.

Special note on food safety:  I know this vendor and the quality of the freshness of the meat.  The meat is grilled over red hot charcoals and cooked well.  The tomatoes, peppers and onions are also cooked this way so we can peel the skin off after it is singed.  We peel the avocado ourselves.  Limes are a natural astringent.  I always carry hand sanitizer with me and use is often to be certain that we don’t pick up any unwanted “bugs.”  This is a perfectly healthy and wonderful way to eat local food without worry.