Thinking about Breakfast

A big part of what I do often is talk with others about food. Lately, these conversations have been related to my ongoing interest in how we distinguish our national cuisines in the Spanish Caribbean. On the surface, when diets are seen as just a collection of foods eaten throughout the day, Cuban, Puerto Rican and Dominican diets are quite similar. However, when foods are organized by meals, differences start to emerge, especially when talking about breakfast…

Dominicans eat mangú for breakfast!
In Costa Rica, I ate rice and beans for breakfast, lunch and dinner!

 Mangu breakfastRemarks like the ones above were made by fellow Puerto Ricans when talking about differences in national cuisines around Latin America and the Caribbean. A common comment was on mangú. This mashed plantain dish was seen as too heavy, or too much, for breakfast, compared with the common Puerto Rican breakfast of toast and coffee. And yes – this statement comes with the qualifier that breakfast varies by person and by day of the week. The toast in the Puerto Rican breakfast table is often slathered in butter and accompanied by fried eggs and ham – not exactly “light”. Yet, they are what we consider “breakfast foods”. Mangú, plantains, and beans are seen as lunch or dinner foods, not breakfast.

The distinction between “breakfast” and “lunch”/”dinner” foods may be something relatively new in Puerto Rico. Decades ago, viandas may have been a part of the Puerto Rican breakfast table, especially those in the country side, as part of a hearty early meal in preparation for a full day in the field.

This takes me to my second Cuban meal: breakfast at the Old Havana hotel a few weeks ago. The breakfast was served in a big, spacious room, surrounded by a rooftop terraza. Three walls with different buffet stations and an omelet station in the corner. In the center of the room, a table full of breads of all kinds, including decorative pieces. One such bread: a reptile like the one below. No pictures, but imagine this one, green.

cocodrile bread

Source: Pinterest

The offerings included various cold cuts, sausages, a few fruits…and pasta? Macarroni salad? Meatballs? This seemed odd. And I pondered on that every morning, as I cross the “lunch-breakfast” station (and no- I would not call this “brunch”). Was anybody eating this for breakfast? Not from what I saw. Yet – they were there every morning, for the four breakfasts we “enjoyed” there.

The last breakfast: Sweet bread, slice or watermelon, another piece of bread and mortadella.

The last breakfast in Havana: Sweet bread, slice or watermelon, another piece of bread and mortadella.

Breakfast is indeed the most important meal of the day, and perhaps the most interesting as well. How we talk about breakfast, more interestingly, about what “others” eat in the morning, manifests our own social norms surrounding food and eating. What we choose to eat may be affected by what we expect to do the rest of the day, and at the same time, what we eat first thing in the morning can have an effect on the rest of our day.

Interested in seeing breakfast tables around the world? Click below for a quick view:

Source: Huffington Post (Click on picture to watch)


Health married Design in Guatemala

Health married design.
They built a small house for children to grow healthy and tall.

Chronic malnutrition is a big problem in Guatemala, resulting in impaired physical and cognitive development. We know the solution to this issue, including simple solutions such as growth monitoring, vitamin supplementation, or just improving food access. Yet, in places like Guatemala, where the “haves” coexist in a parallel universe to the “have-nots”, hunger often goes unseen, and public unawareness (or disinterest) inevitably leads to inaction.

Along comes Despertemos Guatemala, the organization behind the public awareness campaign “Tengo Algo que Dar” (I have something to give). The campaign uses clean, simple and modern design to catch the attention of a wider audience – for example: The Story of Valerio (click on the image to watch, in Spanish):


This differs sharply from other campaigns that present very real and uncomfortable images of hungry children. And it worked. The public awareness campaign brought urban dwellers to rural, poor areas, for a weekend stay that later resulted in more exchanges between the two realities living in the same country, as seen in this second video.

IMG_20140407_101240598This successful union between health and design resulted in a second offspring: The Casita, a portable, inexpensive structure. The materials can be easily transported where needed in two pick-up trucks and assembled by community volunteers.

The design came from the minds of architects, seeking to translate health sector solutions to a practical design, addressing maternal and child health needs in the community, based on the 1000 days window of opportunity framework

The Casita is different from your typical neighborhood clinic: Smaller, open, and promises no wait. The house is built with sustainability in mind, featuring solar panels, compost bins, and eco-stoves.

Casita in Markala, Honduras.  Image from Despertemos Guatemala.

Casita in Markala, Honduras. Image from Despertemos Guatemala.

The Casita serves not only as a place for the promotion of better nutrition and health. It is a successful example of multisectorial cooperation and civic engagement. The design focuses on sustainability, underscoring the link between environment and nutrition. Through its open design, the Casitas also promote transparency and allows for a wider reach of the nutrition and health benefits to the surrounding community. It also brings food and cooking to the conversation, with the opportunity to have community gardens nearby and the showcase of eco-stoves as part of the design.

Casita in Ahuachapan, El Salvador. Image from Despertemos Guatemala.

The Casitas featured above are not in Guatemala. Despite the wonderful popular movement in the country that inspired the Casita, not a single one has been built in this country yet. Thanks to a collaboration with PRESANCA (Regional Program for Food and Nutrition Security in Central America), Casitas are being built in neighboring countries. Could this be a case of politics getting in the way?

The story continues to unfold… Interested in learning more? Follow the continued effort of Despertemos Guatemala.


Posting in commemoration of World Health Day 2014 from celebratory events at Tufts University (Boston, MA)