“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”

It is a universal standard that no matter where you travel to, for whatever reason, the first thing people will ask you about is the food. It goes without saying that most places have a lot more distinctive food than the US, because we have a wide variety of everything. If someone asked me what the food was like in America, I wouldn’t really know what to say. But it’s pretty easy to talk about food in other countries because its more of a specialty there – Italian pasta is unbeatable, I’ve only ever ordered fish & chips in England, Guinness is best drank in Ireland, and the presence and quality of guinea pig kabobs is far higher in Ecuador than the US.

Yes, I said guinea pigs, I couldn’t help it, I love telling people I ate one of those evil furry little creatures that bit me every time I ever tried to pet one as a child. But, seriously, Ecuadorean food is great, so much focus on fresh fruits and vegetables, and the traditional cuisine is rich, filling, and yet still healthy. There were fruits and vegetables that I never even knew existed in the world, and something that I found incredibly thrilling as a traveler was simply wandering fruit markets looking for foods I hadn’t tried yet. My favorites were guanabana (soursop), mora berries, and a ridiculously fun-to-eat fruit called granadilla.

The first time I got one of these, I had no idea how to eat it – you crack it open and eat the fruit-seed pods (that look disturbingly like fish eggs) without eating the white inner part of the shell. They are absolutely delicious and are equally fun and time-consuming to eat!

And the best part about food in Ecuador is this: hunger didn’t seem as big an issue as it might have in similar countries, because the government places a high priority on the availability of food for everyone, and healthy food is cheaper than unhealthy or “fast” food.

More widely available that anything else in a local market, is fresh fruit of all shapes and colors

More widely available that anything else in a local market is fresh fruit of all shapes and colors

For comparison:

  • A full meal at basic restaurant (soup, avocado slices, potatoes, corn, steak, sometimes juice): $2.00 – 3.00
  • A combo meal at McDonalds in Quito: $5.00+
  • Bottle of Coke: $1.50
  • Bottle of Water: $.50

And these healthy differences in Ecuadorean food are a concrete part of governmental policy that have been in the country’s Constitution since 2008. Food Sovereignty, as it is called by the members of the Via Campesina (Peasant’s Way), is the people’s right to define their own food system and have access to healthy, local foods.  This social justice group also focuses on environmental policy and indigenous and women’s rights.

The Food Sovereignty policy

  • supports small farmers and encourages local production and sales
  • works to prevent runaway prices of food products
  • ensures that animals intended for human consumption are raised in a healthy and humane way
  • promises that in case of anthropogenic (human-caused) or natural disasters, the government will step in to ensure that people in need still have access to food
  • and it deals with many other issues as well, ranging from sustainable growing practices to standards set on international foods that are imported

So basically, the government works to ensure that all people have access to healthy and fresh food, and also that food is grown as environmentally-friendly as possible. And this always makes me wonder, why can’t the American government get their act together and have policies like this? Give subsidies to healthy food and tax unhealthy fast food, instead of vice-versa?

As a poor college student – about to get poorer as graduation time approaches – I know all too well that an entire meal at Wendy’s can cost as little as $3.00, but a salad at Wendy’s is double that? A bag of chips costs ~$2 but a bag of apples costs $5? It’s not fair that Americans of lower socio-economic status are forced to buy unhealthy food because they can’t afford anything else, putting them at risk of health complications that arise solely out of their economic standing. The reason our economy is this way in regards to food is probably a complicated mess of politics, economics, and a deep-rooted tradition of what Americans view as a typical diet or their right to consume whatever they want (and undoubtedly a little bit of corruption in the policy-making sectors). There is no quick fix to a problem such as this one, but an increased focus on sustainable food production and a commitment to ensure healthy food for all seems like a good start?

DE VIENTO EMPANADAS

Now, I know I just talked a lot about healthy food and healthy food is great! But, I leave you now with a recipe for deep fried de viento empanadas, a specialty of Ecuador that I was luckily enough to try at an indigenous music festival.  Here’s the recipe, a little rough as it is translated into imperial measuring units from my memory of an old Ecuadorean lady yelling it at me because she thought that would make me understand her better:

  • ~2 cups flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3 oz butter
  • 1/3 cup water

You also need:

  • Cheese for inside the empanadas – there is really only one kind of cheese in Ecuador, a fresh, moist, white cheese that has no other name than simply queso, so I would suggest any white, weak cheese – I used mozzerella.
  • Oil to fry them in – vegetable, sunflower, or canola oil probably work the best
  • Sugar to sprinkle over tops

When I made this recipe, I altered the flour and water a little bit to get the right consistency – this recipe is traditionally used in a high altitude, so that might make a difference or I didn’t get the measurements just right.

  1. Mix flour, salt, baking powder, butter, and water until a soft dough forms.
  2. Take a small ball of dough, depending on how big you want your empanadas to be, and flatten into a circle.
  3. Fill half the circle with cheese and press together, ensuring they are sealed tightly.
  4. Fry in oil until golden brown, flipping halfway through (about a minute per side).
  5. Remove from oil and sprinkle with sugar, allow to cool, and enjoy!
I watched these cook before my very eyes.  De viento empanadas - cheese filled, sprinkled with sugar.

I watched these cook before my very eyes. De viento empanadas – cheese filled, sprinkled with sugar.

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