Maybe, just maybe, I ate fresh tomatoes at the Quinciñeara last weekend that were probably not disinfected. Quien sabe?
Food borne illness is a big deal and is borderless. We get sick anywhere in the world, even in Los Estados Unidos aka El Norte. One friend says she is going to take Microdyne back with her when she returns in December.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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Eric Chavez Santiago is Zapotec, born and raised in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca.
Norma Schafer has been living in Oaxaca for almost 20 years.
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Dye Master Dolores Santiago Arrellanas with son Omar Chavez Santiago, weaver and dyer, Fey y Lola Rugs, Teotitlan del Valle