Epcot: “Where the Impossible Becomes Possible”

A couple of weeks ago, my friends and I decided to go to Florida for spring break–except we wanted to spice it up a little. Enjoying the beach in Fort Lauderdale or partying in Miami seemed too basic. Why not go to Disney? Disney seems to be a dream come true when you are eight, but would it still be a dream at 21?

To say that we had fun is an understatement– Disney had a lot more to offer than I could ever conceptualize at eight years old. Initially meant to be an experimental prototype community of “Tomorrow”, Epcot has now become a theme park that celebrates human achievement and culture. Epcot’s celebration is centered around a World Showcase with 11 countries represented as 11 pavilions. The pavilions portray not only traditional music and architecture from each country, but  also serve delicious food. Whether you want to experience fast food or a sit-down restaurant, the pavilions come with all the options you could ever dream of. From Mexico to Norway and even Morocco, Epcot is a dream-like experience. 

Intending to try as much food as possible from as many pavilions as possible, we started our trip around the world in the Mexican pavilion. As a Mexican student, I must say I had incredibly low expectations for the Mexican pavilion. Really, there are not a lot of Mexican restaurants in the U.S. that can accurately emulate the Mexican flavors. However, trying food and drinks from the margarita stand was simply ambrosial. The tacos were made with hand-made corn tortillas with the earthy and scrumptious textures of Mexico–only topped by a perfectly balanced passion fruit margarita. 

Delighted by some Mexican appetizers, we moved on to Norway. Impressed by the Viking-like architecture, I could hardly wait to try Norwegian traditional food. Offering traditional pastries like kringla pretzel-shaped cookies, sweet lefse flatbread, and the famous school bread. The Kringla Bakeri Og Kafe was cozy and delectable. 

The Chinese pavilion offered a wide variety of dining options, from an elegant restaurant to a small stand that sold the tastiest hand-made crab rangoons I have ever tried. Followed by Germany’s pretzels and assortment of beers, Italy’s pavilion lured us in with some traditional songs, water fountains and limoncello margaritas. The U.S. pavilion immediately transported me to the 4th of July, with fireworks, live concerts, and huge,savory turkey legs. In my opinion, France might have been the grandest pavilion, representing movies like Beauty and the Beast and Ratatouille. The delicate array of food options included crepes, French pastries, the famous macarons and fancy French restaurants. 

Perhaps my favorite pavilion was the Moroccan one. Morocco encapsulated originality and a sort of grandeur only found in a desert. With an amazing representation of the Koutoubia Minaret in Marrakesh, the intricate towers show a side of Islam that is not often represented in the Western world. Terracotta buildings and bazaars invited everyone to come in. As a fan of kebabs, just thinking about the pavilion’s chicken kebabs makes me drool. The perfectly cooked soft, juicy chicken melted in my mouth in perfect balance. It was simply marvelous!

The cherry on top of the Epcot experience was the magnificent water and firework show at 9 p.m. Overjoyed by a succulent plate of poutine and a lavender-infused drink from the Canadian pavilion, the visual and auditory experiences of the show were moving. Representing movies like the Lion King and Coco, the show was vibrant and celebratory. Immersed in this deep emotional joy I realized that I felt like I was eight again. Disney is truly where the impossible becomes possible. 

Cover photo courtesy of Disney Tourist Blog


Food or Healer?

In an era of COVID, social isolation, and fear, the attitude towards food seems to be pessimistic and gloomy. COVID quarantine seems to be the perfect excuse to consume all comfort foods imaginable. Left restricted and sick, fast food’s accessibility and ease becomes more appealing. Flooded with overwhelming feelings, emotional eating appears to be unavoidable. On top of it all, meals have ceased to be a social activity and the media keeps drilling in our heads that intuitive eating is long forgotten. The meaning of food has shifted. It no longer means medicine, balance or sustenance. It only means energy. By approaching food in this manner, we have forgotten the healing powers of food. Some think of natural medicine as purely spiritual. If approached adequately, however, it can have the power to improve the immune system, allow the body to heal, and prevent future diseases.

We learn in the History I classroom how the Black Death and the Smallpox plague decimated entire populations and cultures. Environmental features, migratory paths, and immunity played a role in the easy spread of such diseases. However, the malnutrition of the population played a more crucial role in its deadly toll. I am not suggesting we are all malnourished in the BC community, but perhaps our dietary choices could be used to help our bodies heal. 

The idea of food as medicine is not new. Indigenous cultures, like the Mayans and deeply-studied traditional medicines like that of the Chinese, have utilized food as a powerful panacea. In the Mayan culture, disease is caused by a bodily imbalance. Such imbalance can be healed by the consumption of certain herbs and foods. The popular examples of cacao, chili peppers, and herbal teas are only a limited scope. In a 2017 study, 59 plants were documented to be used in Mayan medicine practiced only in Belize, 20 of which treat infections and 16 different digestive issues. While it is true that some components of Mayan medicine are of spiritual roots, modern pharmaceuticals are based on the healing properties of certain herbs and foods found in natural medicine. Pilocarpine, from a Brazilian herb, battles glaucoma, and alkaloids from Madagascar Periwinkle are part of the chemotherapeutic treatments for Hodgkin’s disease and childhood leukemia (Pompescu). Your nearest CVS pharmacy turns out to be nothing short of a Chaman’s apothecary. 

Similar to the Mayans, Chinese medicine utilized food as a potent healer. Chinese medicine sought to maintain the balance of the Qi, or internal energy. In order to help the body find its way to balance, the consumption of foods like rice, sweet potato, and ginger were encouraged. Rice and sweet potato were believed to build Qi in the spleen. Moreover, ginger was utilized to build “kidney Yang” and promote the health of the kidney. Chinese medicine was not simply ritualistic nonsense. Its observations have carried over to modernity. Some modern findings have supported the use of sweet potato and ginger in preventive medicine. According to Erica Joulson MS. RDN., sweet potato has been found to hold properties for a good digestion and great gut health. Additionally, ginger has been shown to reduce complications of diabetes such as kidney disease. Chinese medicine might be ancient, but its bases have offered modern medicine a new alternative. 

As time passes, our historical memory seems to be obliterated by innovation and newness. This has led us to forget the strength of dietary choices as a healer. COVID quarantine does not have to be filled with inflammation, irritation and loneliness. Easy steps like controlling glucose spikes could have an influence on a better mental health and stable moods. Including elements of the Mediterranean diet could help the body respond to disease in a less stressful and more efficient way. And, the gratitude stemming from balance and natural medicine could even help prevent feelings of loneliness and hopelessness. Maybe the future of food is not all gloomy and pessimistic. Maybe food is the medicine we have all been waiting for.

Cover photo courtesy of Wok and Kin


The Collaterals of Avo-Toast Popularity

Some people think of Friday as the happiest day of the week, but for me, it was always Saturday. Every Saturday without exception my family and I would go to a café to eat breakfast. I remember the ecstasy of reading an entire menu that contained typical breakfast foods:  eggs, pancakes, waffles, French toasts, chocolate milk… you name it! As I grew older and I changed, the menu of the café started to change as well. What before was comfort-food paradise was now full of acai bowls and turmeric-ginger drinks. Saturday breakfast became the perfect excuse to post the delicious and aesthetic $9 avocado toast. With over 16K posts, #avocadotoasts became the embodiment of “health” and “popularity.” Influencers, Britney Spears, and the person next to you at the café were compelling  you to order one. The increase in popularity increased the demand dramatically. In January alone nearly 320 million pounds of avocados were imported to the US, setting a new import record  (Rabobank). The 33% annual increase in demand has been so powerful that it converted avocados into something more than an Instagram post: a political weapon. 

When we sit at the table, we rarely think about the origin of the products we eat. The same occurs with avocado toast. There is a tendency to oversimplify agricultural product origin by thinking that most agricultural products are farmed in America. Truth is, only 10% of avocados are grown in the United States. According to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, Mexico was the principal source of American-consumed avocados. This became germane when president Donald Trump tried to impose a 20% tariff on Mexican imports in order to pay for his famous “wall”. His new policy was the incarnation of his campaign slogan: “Make America Great Again.” On the surface, what appeared to be a nationalist move would have impacted the millions of avocado toast consumers in the U.S. The $9 avocado toast would have been an $11 dollar toast. 

The increase in demand does not only impact American politics. In Mexico, avocados are known as “green gold” for growers. Avocados are the opportunity for agricultural communities to thrive; a thriving that has also sparked the interest of the cartels. The states of Michoacán and Jalisco are the leading avocado producers in Mexico. They are also breeding states for criminal groups like Nueva Generacion and the New Michoacán Family. Thirsty for more power and money, the cartels have seen the opportunity to earn money from the exports without having to grow the avocados themselves. Cartel extorsion comes in different flavors, from stealing trucks with imports, to kidnapping, raping, and killing the families of the farmers. In exchange for protection farmers have to pay a quota that amounts to up to $2,500 U.S. dollars per hectare. The government action to protect its own people has been minimal, therefore offering the opportunity of self-defense groups to arise. The farming communities’ children now carry guns instead of avocados.  

Farming communities in Mexico tend to be populated by indigenous people. Faced with external hardships like poverty and lack of education, the indigenous communities in Mexico are confronted with yet another issue. While in some instances self-defense groups are able to eliminate the threat of the cartels, other groups are outgunned by the cartels. A 2017 study by Global Financial Integrity estimated that a cartel income is between $426 billion to $652 billion U.S. dollars a year which exceeds Walmart’s revenue in 2017. The arsenal of cartel weapons and technology is hardly able to be paralleled by the farming communities, leaving them more vulnerable than ever. Additionally, self-defense groups run the risk of becoming integrated with other better established criminal groups. 

The growth in avocado popularity is in no way to be blamed for the U.S. or Mexico’s political problems. In fact, indigenous and farming communities could potentially benefit incredibly from the demand growth. However, the world is a more complex entity than we conceptualize. We sit every Saturday to eat avocado toasts and post them on Instagram without really understanding the sweat and blood that the avocado represents. More than feeling guilty, it inspires a certain sense of humility and thankfulness for having the opportunity to eat such a nutritious dish without having to pay the violent consequences of harvesting them.  


Figuring Out Fast Food

Chipotle, Chick-Fil-A, Panda Express, you name it. Fast food is everywhere, and not surprisingly. According to The Barbecue Lab, 83% of American families eat fast food at least once a week. Its benefits seem to extend far beyond taste. Fast food companies have lured the public into buying because of its fast and inexpensive offerings. But at what expense? 

Since the start of civilization, the act of eating has been more than a need: it has been a social ritual. Hunter-gatherer societies relied on community for safety and nourishment. This sense of community was taken to the table, or cave, where hunter-gatherers would come together to cook and enjoy their recently killed mammoth. During the Medieval Age, monarchies would introduce noble brides to kings during supper. In fact, entire courts like that of Louis XIV were known for vibrant and opulent kitchens. Nowadays, you can find families gathering on Sundays in Latin America to celebrate life or family picnics throughout Europe. Sadly, this tradition seems to have been weakened by the fast food business in the United States. The average American overall spends less time eating, therefore limiting the possibilities to strengthen connections in a community. A recent study published by FSR Magazine states that the average wait per party is 23 minutes. Twenty-three minutes to order, eat, pay the check, and leave. Is 23 minutes even enough to eat at a healthy pace without choking? 

Photo courtesy of Tasty Burger

Fast food does not only affect the creation and strengthening of connections, but it also undermines centuries of history and innovation in traditional kitchens. Mexican cuisine’s grandeur is the result of the use of fresh and native indigenous products and a mélange of the ingredients and spices brought from Europe by the conquistadors. At home in Mexico, it is not rare to eat mole for lunch. The peculiar and delicious taste of the dish, which involves chiles and chocolate, is always accompanied by my mom’s short history lesson. “You know, Regina,” she would say, “this dish was the product of desperation and interculturalism.” 

As the legend goes, colonial Mexico was waiting for the arrival of the viceroy Juan de Palafox y Mendoza. There was a welcome feast in a convent led by Brother Pascual Bailon. He was so profoundly nervous that he accidentally dropped ingredients of indegenous origin like chocolate and chiles into a pot where wild turkey was being cooked. He served the final result to the Spanish nobles, who were surprised at the sublime and peculiar taste. Fast food is not only too fast, but it fails to portray the richness of Mexican gastronomy, and instead emphasizes the stereotype that Mexican food only includes tacos and burritos.  Similarly, Chinese cuisine was influenced by the country’s geographical diversity. Different regions of China offer distinct agricultural and meat products to its magical, harmonious cuisine. Orange chicken lacks these contributions, those of which make such magnificent dishes possible. 

During the time of the pandemic, schedules seem to be more packed than usual, adding to the necessity of eating fast and efficient meals. One might think that fast food would come in a clutch. You order a burrito and eat it quickly as you type that annoying English paper you waited too long to start. Everything seems perfectly acceptable on the surface, but it might not be the perfect answer on a deeper level. The opportunity to sit down with friends and talk about the day was missed; maybe your friend had brought along a new person from class, who would have been interesting to meet. Instead of being able to enjoy food together, to energize, refresh, and inspire one another, you are left with a heavy feeling in your stomach. Is it ever really worth it to avoid the social ritual of a meal?

Cover photo courtesy of .