Belize: Where food is everywhere and yet…

A foodie visitor to Belize might observe that the country has a vibrant “street food” scene. In Belize, we just call it food, comida, and dinna (dinner). There are small vendors everywhere. On a recent five-minute car ride from my neighborhood to the grocery store I counted at least ten pop-up, semi-permanent and permanent purveyors of food: meat pies, tamales, panades, barbecue, johnny cakes, rice and beans with stewed chicken–you name it!

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For a poor country, there is a lot of food around. Grocery stores are plentiful and well-stocked. Upscale eateries and casual eateries abound in the tourist areas (there are not as many in Belize City). Portions, whether on the street or in a hotel dining room, tend to be generous. Prices range, depending on where you are (in the districts versus a tourist destination, for example), but a few Belize dollars can fill your belly.

And yet, children go hungry.

Recent years have seen the rise of school feeding programs for children who may not get a nutritious meal on any given day.

10 Belize feeding programs (there may be more):

  1. Rotary Club
  2. Dara’s Feeding Program (fundraiser)
  3. Social Security Board Ride Across Belize (fundraiser)
  4. Toledo District School Feeding Program
  5. St. Paul’s Feeding Program
  6. St. Peter’s School Feeding program
  7. Together We Can Solve Hunger
  8. Cornerstone Foundation Feeding Program
  9. Holy Cross Anglican School Feeding Program
  10. Belmopan Police Feeding Program
  11. Red Cross Feeding Program

It’s hard to find information on the exact numbers or reasons for hunger in Belize. I did find the World Food Programme Hunger Map, which calls the “prevalence of undernourishment” among Belizean children “relatively low;” about 9 percent of kids ages five to 14 don’t get enough to eat. That seems rather high, in a country where food (literally) grows on trees and in the sea. Are adults simply hogging all the food for ourselves?

Belize snapshot (Source: CIA World Factbook)

  • Population: 347,369 (July 2015 est.)
  • Population below poverty line: 41%
  • Adult unemployment rate 12.9% (2014 est.) 14.1% (2013 est.)
  • Unemployment, youth ages 15-24 total: 25% (male: 18% ,female: 35.6%
  • Adult obesity rate 20.6%
  • The second largest population group consists of children 0-14 years: 34.87% (male 61,822/female 59,312)
  • Children under the age of 5 years underweight: 6.2%

An informal economy

Back to the food vendors. Are their families eating the food they prepare?

I also wonder whether the official economic statistics include these entrepreneurs. Then I think of the people who have day jobs and do other things on the side to make ends meet, to feed their children.

They do nails or hair in their parlours (living rooms); sell clothes out of their bedrooms (using Facebook to advertise); cook in their own kitchens and deliver to customers. There are car dealers without car lots (they park their vehicles on the streets and post contact phone numbers in the windows). There website designers, domestic workers and childcare providers.

Check back here for more economic musings. 




5 things I ate in Cuba

This post was inspired by an NPR story titled, Mojito diplomacy: Chefs plan culinary tours to Cuba.

Despite rationing–or because of?–the friends I spent time with found ways to get their hands on a variety of foods. Bottomline: if one had money, one could buy just about anything. Los clandestinos thrived when I was traveling to Cuba in 2002-04, and I imagine the black market economy is still more relevant to daily life than the state. Many families receive foreign remittances, so not everyone must rely on their ration books.

1. The first thing I ate in Cuba was lobster. Arriving in Havana late at night, we found our hotel restaurant was closed, so my mother and I followed a man from the neighborhood to a Centro Habana paladar, a private home licensed by the government to cook and serve meals. We sat at the family’s dining table as love songs played on a boom box.

2. For breakfast, I often ate tortillas. The Cuban version is actually a frittata, in all it’s delicious glory. Served with bread and Cuban coffee at the casa particular (private home licensed to host tourists) where I stayed on subsequent trips.

3. Paella. Cooked in a tiny kitchen on the roof of the home of friends in the beach town of Varadero. Exquisite, especially because we ate at a table on the roof, under the sky, shaded by a tree.

4. Garbanzo soup with white rice. Rich and filling. Cooked with pride by the man of the house at my casa particular .

5. A giant sheet cake ordered by the casa particular chatelaine for a party on Dec. 17, dedicated to St. Lazarus. San Lazaro is a big deal for Cubans, who pray to him for health.

I went with my friends to pick up the cake, which was created behind nondescript doors at a clandestine bakery, where employees were busy mixing, baking and decorating a variety of treats in a series of rooms that opened onto a courtyard.

A lookout gave the all-clear when we were ready to leave with the cake. No police or snoops in sight, we carefully placed the cake into the trunk of the ancient Lada.

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