Local food in El Salvador? It certainly exists, even though farmers markets, CSAs and advocates don’t abound in this country. Driving northwest towards Santa Ana, the highway is lined with roadside farmstands selling the latest harvest: jocotes (known also as hog plums), as well as bananas and plantains, oranges, and maybe bags of loroco and rosa de jamaica. As the post about my trip to Los Planes demonstrated, there is even a small local organic farming presence here too. Farming is certainly omnipresent here, corn and beans are often planted right up to where the pavement begins of any road or highway, the steepest slops are even covered with corn or beans, if not coffee. The sugar cane tends to remain on flat land. But of all of this agriculture, much is either exported (coffee & sugar cane) or eaten very locally (corn & beans). There is very little diversity as a whole. And this is where demand comes in. Food in the supermarkets, food that most people who are considered middle or upper class buys, that food is almost all imported. The apples from Chile. The bananas from Costa Rica. The strawberries from Guatemala. The beef from Nicaragua. The processed food from the States. The people with the most money are sending that money back out of the country. Wouldn’t it do everyone more good to keep that money within El Salvador’s borders? Certainly.
For me, that is the biggest argument for developing and promoting diverse local food streams in El Salvador. The farmers of Los Planes not only live a healthier life free of pesticides, but they live a happy and comfortable life. Maybe they still do not own cars or have TVs and Internet, but I dearly hope that those material items do not connote happiness. Pedro and his family were well fed and well clothed. His children attended school in neatly washed uniforms and new notebooks and pencils. He and his friends played soccer on Sundays while his wife managed the small tienda that sold snacks and cold drinks. Yes, they had electricity! If the rural population had guaranteed market access to the urban centers, if the urban population desired locally produced food, then everyone would win. Fresh food for the urbanites, steady incomes for the campesinos. Is it just a pipe dream? I would like to think not. As high-end restaurants in the city are being opened by U.S.-trained chefs, they begin to look for local sources of fresh foods. And the more that look for it, the more demand there will be. And the more demand there is, the more the farmers will provide. The moral of this short story is that no matter where you are in the world, go find your local farmers! Ask your restaurants which food is sourced locally. The more people who seem to care about it, the more people will actually care about it!