Friday, July 1, 2011

Dulce bomb

What supposedly constitutes a good diet and a poor one have changed in my lifetime as many times as I've decided to try to eat better. No, wait, they've changed more than twice. What nine out of ten doctors have always agreed on, though, is that a diet high in simple and processed sugars is bad. Filling up with calories, without regard to nutrition, bad. Diabetes, rotten teeth, paunchy guts, annoying children, Valentine's Day...a litany of horrors. And with continued warnings from serious people in lab coats, North Americans have begun to cut back on sugar and deep fried donut-bunned triple cheeseburgers in favor of...lower calorie chemicals (baby steps, baby steps). So when the North American rats jump ship, what's a manufacturer to do? Set sail for the Third World, of course.

Welcome to Ecuador, boys; bar's open!
Dental tourism Ecuadorrrrrr!

What we have generally found here in Ecuador is a virtual museum of products that have been banned or otherwise lost a market in the more regulated and educated First World. I think I'd mentioned before that the line we were fed as kids about the U.S. government burning old money was a crock; they send those ratty things to Ecuador. Asbestos? Rickety, dilapidated carnival rides? Jagged metal playgrounds? Trans fats? Red dye #2? What the market will bear and the government will allow, baby.

And our great American tradition of transforming chains of molecules into "edible" products that have no resemblance to any known organic matter is very popular here. It sounds like a great deal--cheap calories, easy to transport and store, easily placed into marketing package and pitch formulas. But I'm guessing the reason this crap always gets so far in a market is that we humans are not programmed to be critical of our foods, beyond natural taste cues (like bitterness that suggests least naturally occurring toxins). If it tastes good, eat it!

In a natural food environment our bodies have had no need to have warning triggers to say "maaaaybe you're eating too much refined spun sugar on a stick". Salt, sugar, and other pure tongue bombs just don't occur in high enough quantities in the natural world to require such a fail-safe. So we need serious people in lab coats.

But there are few trusted and trustworthy sources (lab coats) in Ecuador and the rest of the Third World. So the exceptionally healthy traditional Ecuadorian diet of locally and naturally produced vegetables, fruits, and meats, while not gone, has been supplemented to a gargantuan degree by things in wrappers, packages, and grease drippin's.

The peculiar thing is that many of the hand-made sweets are similarly blunt, as are the breads. On special occasions (which are most days) there are booths with a cornucopia of fabulous-looking sweets. And they aren't bad, they are just more homogenous tasting than looking. They are certainly sweet, but not so flavorful. It begs the question, do all the factory carbohydrates appeal so much in Ecuador because local palettes already have a flat flavor curve? Or have those recipes been simplified due to the availability of simpler, cheaper ingredients?

The upside of all this flavor deprivation is that there is far less temptation for my indefatigable sweet tooth and I am skinnier (and probably healthier) than I've been in a long time.

But wait! here's a theory I just came up with. Maybe it's my chemically habituated palette that can no longer discern more subtle flavors. Sweet, salty, bitter, sour...those are just tastes, not flavors. And I've spent so much of my life at the taste trough that maybe I just can't appreciate flavor anymore.

All right, forget everything I just said. Bring on the sugar cane!

Sugar cane and all its glorious uses

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