Want to develop a closer connection to your food? Traveling in rural Latin America is one way to start.
High up in the Andes, the city of Otavalo, Ecuador hosts a weekly market where ranchers from surrounding towns come to sell livestock to restaurants, families and other farmers.
The conventional (by US standard) species like chickens, pigs, cows, and goats were there, but the vendors also sold guinea pigs to be killed and cooked for cuy, a typical Andean dish.
The market was loud! Squealing 100 lb. pigs could barely be heard over the drone of crowing and clucking roosters. The smell wasn’t too bad as there was a breeze brushing through the field and the animals had only been there for a few hours. As the market wore on and the sun beat down, the pig section became a little rank. From my very limited experience visiting rural county fairs as a kid and at this animal market, I’m pretty sure that pigs are able to excrete their weight in urine within hours!
Ladies in indigenous dress and men in jeans and sweatshirts, circled and poked at the animals to assess quality. When they found one that they liked, they would haggle with the farmer, sometimes walking away and other times carrying off the animal after they made the sale.
As Americans, urban folk, and for me, as a vegetarian, it was hard to set aside our deep, but culturally influenced beliefs about the humane treatment of animals. For the livestock it was easier; I believe that most industrial animal agriculture in the U.S. is less humane than what most of those small farmers in Ecuador do.
Still, when I came to some cages that were densely packed with small and sickly kittens, I had to walk away.
But I overcame my emotions, and I’m glad I got the chance to experience this glimpse into everyday life in Ecuador.
More photos from the Otavalo Animal Market: