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Nearly two-thirds of the commenters on my last post asked why our eggs come from Brazil. The short answer is: globalization and the long answer is: I don’t know. We certainly do have chickens here, and I believe that many of the eggs sold here are local. But last year when fear of bird flu spread through Nouakchott (even though we have not had any cases here), many people killed their birds. You can still sometimes find local chickens, plucked or unplucked, for cooking, or you can find a small frozen chicken that comes from Brazil, although it says right on the package that it was killed in the way that is halal, acceptable to Muslims. Most boutiques sell frozen chicken by the cuisse (which is what’s left after the breast has been removed for all those boneless, skinless chicken breasts for sale in the West); these come from Europe. Cuisse means thigh in French, but the chicken cuisse is really a half-bird, and includes the wing and the drumstick. For a while, a debate raged about if it was acceptable to eat such chickens, who might have been killed in a way which is harem (forbidden), but eventually some imam announced it was ok, and now you can serve your Muslim friends chicken again without worrying them.

We have a friend who has a small agricultural co-op, and he bought up a lot of the chickens and for a while, their side yard was full of them. Ilsa loved to go visit and help collect eggs. He still has a few fowl, but most he’s re-sold to help get people set up in their own businesses. I like getting my eggs through his co-op, because I know they’ll be fresh. When I send the kids to the tiny dusty single-room boutique on the corner, crammed with shelves carrying everything from palm oil to tinned tomato paste to couscous to long-life milk, I send along a glass of water. This way they can float the eggs in it first to make sure they are fresh; if they bob up merrily or sink like rocks, we save our five cents or so and buy eggs someplace else! This saves me from adding a rotten egg to a cup of butter and sugar creamed together, thereby necessitating tossing it all out.

Very little of what we buy here is locally produced. The dates are local in season but are often from Tunisia or Algeria; the milk we buy is fresh, pasteurized but not homogenized so there’s lumps sometimes. The butter is from France, the eggs from Brazil, the tomatoes trucked down from Morocco, the mangoes (soon!) trucked up from Senegal. Onions come from Holland; apples from Spain. Lettuce can be local or from Portugal. Some apples come from America—maybe even grown near Mt. Hood, locally for my origins if not my location. By the time they are here, picked early, blasted with some chemical for rapid transfer, packed in boxes, loaded on ships, they are sad red mushy ghosts of their former selves, tasting of water flavored with apple juice.

While it’s true that our situation—living in a desert—may be extreme, I think very few people nowadays eat much that is local to them—even organic stuff might be from 1000 miles away.

However, the other day someone spotted packs of fresh spinach for sale at Galeria Tata. This is a first, and would be exciting, except… We’re all wondering if they’re the ones that were pulled off the shelves of American stores with the E-Coli scare. Maybe those conspiracy theorists are right after all!

March 2007

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