How Peanut Butter Supports The Indigenous Women Of Guatemala.

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Do you know where your peanut butter comes from or how it’s made?

Globalization brings with it many benefits – including having an abundance of choice in the supermarket, however it also brings with it disadvantages such as the breakdown of local traditions and lack of knowledge of where your food comes from. 

Luckily, AMA supports local traditions and women’s empowerment with the ‘Healthy Food Project’ as part of Program Q’anil – the final entrepreneurial phase of the women’s circle. Q’anil – Semillas de nuestra Herencia means ‘seed’ and represents the creation of the universe, life, Mother Nature and everything she produces in the Nahual (Mayan cosmic belief system).  Food security is a very important issue in a country with the fourth highest rate of chronic malnutrition in children under 5 in the world. AMA employs local Guatemalan women and uses their skills to make food products for their store ‘Alternatives Boutique’ as well as for volunteer groups. These entrepreneurial women receive technical support in their business plans to be part of the transition from formal markets and face economic changes from globalization. With this transformation of business education, indigenous women have another level of empowerment and agency that allows them to adapt to social, environmental, political, and technological changes, to take advantages of opportunities and be agents of change in their communities.  

Doña Isabel of Xecaracoj, a small village on the outskirts of Xela, is one of the women involved with Program Q’anill and makes peanut butter twice a year to sell in the store. She has been working for AMA for over three years. We met with her to find out about the process…

First, she buys 40 pounds of peanuts and spends hours toasting them in her small kitchen. Luckily, Doña Isabel has a clean stove, which is another project of HSP  Clean stoves dramatically reduce exposure to harmful cooking smoke that is responsible for 5,000 deaths per year in Guatemala. Not only do the clean stoves bring health benefits but also the time saved allows the women to spend more time doing other things, such as being with their families.

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While she is finishing toasting the peanuts, Doña Isabel is also able to whip up a delicious traditional Guatemalan breakfast of eggs, beans and tortillas. Her generosity and hospitality once again prove to me the wonderful spirit of this country. 

Next we drive into Xela to the Molino – it appears to be a busy day – at 8:30 am we are told we are 13th in the queue! Everyone is curious as to why we have peanuts and not cocoa – the typical customers’ product at the Molino.

                                                                                                                                                   Doña Isabel preparing the peanuts.

                                                                                                                                                   Doña Isabel preparing the peanuts.

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For hours, we witness a monotonous but captivating display of the molino. Like clockwork, a man on duty (with seemingly no break) dutifully scoops cocoa into the machine. Finally, about four hours later, it’s our turn and we scoop peanuts instead, while Doña Isabel receives it from the other end and ladles it into a large pot. The room is a hive of action and it’s a humbling experience, watching the repetitive process of manual labor involved. 

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Afterwards, Doña Isabel takes the peanut butter back to the AMA kitchen to finish preparing and bottling. Next, she will be making jams and hot smoky sauce.

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“My favorite part of the program is the cooking, I love cooking a lot!” Doña Isabel got to know Lupe (the founder of AMA) in 2005 when she was the cook for the refugio (Training Center) in Xecaracoj. When she retired in 2014 they liked her cooking so much that they hired her to make the condiments for AMA’s store and the volunteers. AMA is happy because the food is prepared cleanly and no one ever gets sick. The money from the peanut butter is enough to support her as her only income. “I’m there when they need me, my time is dedicated to AMA!” One day she dreams that she can go to the United States and help cook for the groups there. 

The final product - 28 large jars and 24 small jars of peanut butter will be sold in the Alternatives Boutique in Quetzaltenango, just in time for Christmas! 

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Written by Sarah Harrison.

 

Diana Alvarado