Posted by: janetwright2guatemala | 06/17/2011

The sweet and bitter taste regarding food availability

16 junio 2011- jueves

First baking class!

Let’s lead off with the positive and move towards the challenges….yesterday was my 2nd baking class with 3 workmates. Menu: banana squares with chocolate chips. “Es fácil” I told them…piece of cake, so to speak. The assessment of the end product: delicioso! Last week we tackled “snickerdoodles”, rolling the dough balls about in a cinnamon-sugar mixture (as if there isn’t enough sugar al dentro!)

Anyone want some Snickerdoodles?

When my neighbor, Gloria, joined us at the end of our session last time, she begged for a chance to bake. So the 2nd course after snickerdoodles was zucchini bread…which I have to say, came out incredibly moist. Otro éxito! I think my friends and neighbors are now hooked on these treats! All I ask is money to cover ingredients and a contribution towards the cost of gas for the oven, so it’s quite a good deal…I get their wonderful company complete with dirty dishes washed, and they go home with baking knowledge and sweet treats for friends and family!

Zucchini bread delight

Despite my sweet tooth, I do want to promote healthy eating…so yesterday I took advantage of waiting for our treat’s birth from the oven to talk about nutrition. I figured that my workmates are likely more informed than most, but when I asked them to sort a pile of food into the main food groups, there was still some uncertainty. We briefly touched upon an ideal amount of calories, limiting fat and sodium intake, and how to read food labels. Good practice for me since I will likely be giving charlas (talks) about nutrition to community and women’s groups. So they took away some knowledge along with their banana squares! Next week we decided upon veggie pizza…moving towards healthy foods.

My personal situation is a decidedly sweet one… adequate pay from Peace Corps to afford food, and even a few luxuries, such as my gas oven. No suffering from daily chores of carrying heavy loads of firewood for cooking or trying to feed many mouths with only a few quetzales to spend. I also have the luxury of being well-educated, which includes an awareness of nutrition. As a youngster, my family did have some hard economic times, but I have never suffered from malnutrition. The situation of families here in Guatemala is so very different from that of the average American.

My neighbor, Gloria, and her sister, Elvira

It is indeed sobering that I live at the epicenter of malnutrition in Guatemala, one of 5 countries of the world which greatly suffers this problem…the numbers are indeed staggering. In all of Guatemala, the malnutrition rate for children ages 0-5yrs hovers around 50%, yet in my department of Totonicapan (one of the 22 depts in the country), we have the highest rates of malnutrition in the country…around 82%. There are 8 municipios (cities) in this department, and my municipio is in 3rd place for malnutrition….so I am indeed living at the epicenter of this terrible problem that continues generation after generation. Just look at my height next to my neighbor Gloria, and her sister…I look gigantic, yet I am only 5”5’. Their short stature is the face of chronic malnutrition. Happily, Gloria’s 11 yr old son, Bryon, appears very close in size to an American boy.

Snack time in Chotzague

As part of my work with the Food Security Commission in my town, I collaborate with UNICEF and personnel from our health center to provide workshops on nutrition in communities. Lately, we’ve been focusing on what schoolchildren eat during recess. The best example was an elementary school in the village of Chotzague…the school principal posts two kids at the gate so that students won’t leave the schoolgrounds to head to adjacent stores, and he requires the vendor within the school to sell only healthy snacks. So great to see the kids clamoring for mango slices! In another community, which has high rates of malnutrition, the teachers are in charge of selling snacks…yes, there are some healthy foods, but unbelievably, they are also selling candy to their malnourished students. The image of this little boy with his bag of junk food just tugs at my heart….he is so very obviously malnourished. Yet the teacher we interviewed claimed that there was no problem of malnutrition in her school. Clearly some education and information is needed. Fortunately, we have support from the U.N. to create some school gardens, however, her school is not one of the 8 primary schools receiving a garden, but there’s a good chance we can help create one there.

Malnourished, yet eating junk food

Candy from the teachers

Tomorrow I head to Chotzague to talk with parents of the elementary schoolkids to push the idea of a 2nd school garden. The 6th graders already have a very productive garden off-site with a variety of vegetables….I was gifted with a head of lettuce when I visited! When I suggested to the principal that they construct another garden within the school ground for grades 2-5, he was on board with the idea. As we all know, we tend to appreciate the fruits of our labor much more than what is simply given to us, so these kids can learn about plant science, nutrition, and have healthy food to consume. Now I just need support from the parents, and some funding for materials. Given that the soil is poor, my idea is to use “ecoladrillos”…plastic bottles filled with inorganic trash placed side-by-side and covered with a layer of concrete to construct a low wall, then bring in healthy soil for the garden. The idea of the ecoladrillos is to remove trash from the environment and put it to use as a building material, while teaching the kids about waste management, including decomposition rates for various materials.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this important subject of malnutrition…comments are welcome. So wish me luck on my presentation!



  1. When I taught a classroom of children with special needs in Glendale California, I found out that some of the kids ate their breakfast on the bus, brought sugary snacks, and continued their poor nutrition with sugary lunches. One boy in particular was having a lot of trouble concentrating in class. No wonder! He had a doughnut and a sugary “fruit drink” for breakfast, etc. After I spoke to his mother, his diet changed and so did his behavior. His mom started giving him better foods, like fresh tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs, and bean burritos. I am happy to report it made a real change in his classroom behavior and in his learning patterns!

  2. Hi mamacita. It’s true, you do look huge next to the Mayan ladies. Alex is gonna seem like a mutant when he goes there 🙂 Two more days until Spanish class!

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