by Steve Mullaney
Poor vegetarians. Somehow, the definition of vegetarian has yet to make it down to Xela. Most vego’s have tales of being offered vegetarian dishes that “have just a little bit of meat” or “are chicken, not meat”. The cultural practice of serving meat to people who do not eat meat is one of Xela’s richest customs. With proper understanding, however, this culinary quirk will warm the heart of anyone who is willing to give up his or her diet in order to see what “no meat” looks like. This month’s WITP takes a look behind this practice and examines why you’re more likely to find a good vegetarian platter in a steakhouse than a home stay.
1) In order for it to be meat it must say “moo”. Within Guatemala you determine whether or not something is meat based on what noise it makes. Moo = meat. “Oink”, “Cluck” and “Woof” = not meat. Jury’s still out on whether “Regalame un quetzal” is meat. Either way, “cluck” definitely falls within the non-meat noises.
2) Everyone has a dog named carne. Therefore, when you tell your host family that you won’t eat carne they are actually understanding that you won’t eat their dog. They will chuckle nervously and wonder about the strange, foreign dog-eating customs. You will be served chicken every night of the week.
3) Comer and coger sound alike, your accent sucks. This is basically the same joke as list item two. If you don’t understand, ask your Spanish instructor. Also, should this be the case the nervous chuckles will be accompanied by uncomfortable stares. If nothing else, this should be encouragement to practice your Spanish conversation skills.
4) You have arrived during national Feed Chicken To Vegetarians Week. FCTV Week is a national tradition where there are fireworks, near-constant parades and culminates in the president force feeding a chicken nugget to a vegan. FCTV Week is generally every single week of every single year, and is sponsored by Pollo Campero.
Ultimately, different food groups have yet to make it to Guatemala. While there are definite distinctions that exist between things that grow in the ground and animals, there is yet to be a major distinction between meat and vegetables. In general, cooks are still getting used to the difference between liquids and solids—meat and vegetables will have to wait for next year. In the meantime, take solace that many people who only eat meat report being fed cucumbers.