|A typical Costa Rican "casado"|
After my month in the sleepy town of Samara, I came to the big, bustling, urban metro of the central valley and immediately noticed that a lot of people were eating differently than the Nicoyans. First of all, in Samara there were no major food chains and in Heredia there's everything you can think of. Applebees, McDonalds, Burger King, Subway, KFC (referred to as "Kentucky" here), Taco Bell, TGI Fridays and on and on. Not only do these restaurants exist, but they are THRIVING here. I remember growing up that it was common to celebrate a birthday or other event at McDonalds. Most of us Americans have grown out of that and McDonalds is usually ordered through the drive-thru late at night by drunk college students. Here in Costa Rica, McDonalds are very nice on the inside (some even have flatscreen TVs) and they are always FULL of families, friends and other people at every hour of the day. Rather than being a shameful place to eat (which it is in the US), many people find it as an acceptable place to eat out. Furthermore, the junk food has expanded beyond the main restaurants. Burgers, fries, hot dogs and especially fried chicken can be found at lots of small fast-food corner shops throughout Heredia. I'm not exaggerating when I say there's a fried chicken place on nearly every block of downtown Heredia.
Another thing I noticed in the central valley diet is that instead of drinking natural fruit drinks with every meal, they use fruit powder mixes. Before I came to CR I only thought "Tang" came in one flavor; that almost-orange artificial citrusy flavor. However, in Costa Rica you can find nearly 20 different flavors of Tang in any local supermarket. Though some ticos in the central valley still make the effort to drink the "naturales," many use the sugary powder replacement. In fact, many of my tico friends say they don't like the taste of water, I'm sure it has to do with the fact that their palates are more accustomed to sweet beverages. I believe that these sugar-loaded drinks alone could be the reason that Costa Rica is in the top 5 countries in the world for sugar consumption. Yikes.
In general, the central valley's diet is just becoming westernized. Some ticos still choose to have rice and beans three times a day, but many would prefer a western diet. USA's fast food influence and the high sugar intake has impacted Costa Rica dramatically in the form of health. A recent study found that 67% of women and 55% of men in Costa Rica are considered overweight and child obesity is on the rise as well. I guess the values of the Blue Zone of Nicoya aren't shared by the majority of central valley.
As a health nut, it's sad to me to see how our (USA) impact has tarnished a beautiful country with a healthy diet in the most corporate, negative way. I hope that one day ticos too will grow out of their McDonald's phase and take advantage of the abundance of fresh, healthy food at their finger tips.
For more information about the blue zone of Nicoya, follow this link!