For those of you who haven't read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, I highly recommend it. For years I've become increasingly aware that one of the most effective ways to improve the economy and live in an eco-friendly lifestyle is to shop locally. Ms. Kingsolver candidly brings this point home via a plethora of personal stories, often uproariously funny and seldom preachy (although just by picking up the book, the reader shows a bit of interest for the topic). Recently, I lent the book to a friend here in Saltillo,which prompted the question: how does one be a "locavore" in Mexico, particularly in the middle of the deserts of the north?
While we may not have the farmers' markets found in the US (and the produce in traditional Mexican markets is 95% of the time NOT local), we've got a number of options open to us. My favorite is the fact that small, locally owned businesses are not dead yet. Mexico's family-owned stores are now facing the fight that their US counterparts lost a decade or two ago.
Beyond the obvious convenience of the big supermarkets, Mexico's supermarkets have the additional incentive of the vale. I call it Magic Money. It's an additional benefit that most large employers offer their employees. Essentially, vales are tax-exempt "gift certificates" to be used specifically at a large number of large stores, which comes in handy for grocery shopping. I put gift certificates in quotes because the money is part of the employee's salary. However, once designated to the vale account, that money is tax-free. Hence the incentive to use this program.
Unfortunately, by using these vales, we bypass the locally-owned stores.
When I worked at the American School, my vales could only be used in any of the 8 chains owned by Wal-Mart. This was at the height of my hatred toward Wal-Mart, and it infuriated me to no end that a part of my salary (albeit a small part) went straight toward stuffing Wal-Mart's already super-sized pockets. In an attempt to bring some good out of the evil empire, I saved up my vales and used them on the kids at NPH.
It also helped that I didn't have many groceries to buy in that stage of my life.
Now that we're a family of three (and in his days of a bachelor, Mario never had to excersize restraint with his vales), we run through Mario's vales in just two weeks. This forces us to decide on that which is worthwhile to buy at the grocery store and what money is better spent strengthening our local economy.
For instance, we have a butcher across the street. His meat tastes just as good, if not better, than Wal-Mart or Soriana's. It's also roughly the same price, if not cheaper. Furthermore, being a small business, he is likely to buy his meat from local ranches than from the large feedlots that Soriana uses. (Keep in mind, I haven't asked him about this. However, it is more likely. After all, Mario's uncle who has a successful small ranch only sells his meat to local butchers.) So one more guilt-free purchase!
I also noticed the other day that our butcher sells cheese. I got the guts to ask for a ball of it (either asadero or ranchero, neither of which I had tried before). Both kinds are AMAZING--so much better than the cheeses from the major brands. And as the butcher's cheese comes label-free, I'm fairly confident that it's made locally. Although again, I have not yet asked him.
While I know that our vegetables come from the ends of the earth, I am making more of an effort to buy them in the market in the centro, instead of at Soriana. After all, Soriana doesn't really care if I shop there or not, but my veggie man does visibly appreciate the fact that I purchase my fruit from him.
And, lest I forget, our wine comes from Casa Madero--just two hours away in Parras. Mmm . . .
Thanks for sticking with me while I stood on this soapbox for longer than I planned. Does anyone else have any more good ideas for incorporating more local selections into their purchasing habits?