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Finally, a health food store in the city

And then there's the cheap and traditional source of fruits and veggies...

Cherry cider, and…

by Eric Jackson

In every culture there are certain concepts that are and forever will be foreign. For one example, though occasionally a gringo will acquire the taste, nance is a Panamanian thing for which most Americans don’t care. A less extreme case would be the lack of appreciation here for red licorice.

But the only pure culture, like the only pure language, is a dead one. People of all nations tend to be remarkably adaptable, and many are the examples of cultural imports that prove to be wildly successful.

Many of those who have lived in North America or Western Europe don’t need to be taught the joys and subtleties of health food. Good brown rice isn’t just higher in fiber and nutritional value, it tastes better and has a more pleasing texture. Chickens that are industrially raised on hormones and antibiotics not only pose potential hazards to your health --- regardless of what the agribusiness corporations tell you --- but they’re bland compared to naturally raised birds. People who have lived in places where there are food co-ops and health food stores, even if they haven’t patronized such establishments, are likely to have been exposed to organic foods because the mainstream supermarkets in such places have felt the need to meet a demand that began on society’s fringes but has long since grown exponentially.

Thus Alejandro Jaén, the proprietor of the new Organica store in the Paitilla Mall, says that North Americans, Europeans and Panamanians who have lived abroad come into his store looking for quality, understanding that one must pay extra for it, and suggesting products for which they have acquired a taste while overseas. Many Panamanians, however, mainly want to know why prices in his store are on the whole higher than at Super 99.

Will enough of the uninitiated become converts to the health food cause to make his business a success? Are there enough people who already know and appreciate the sorts of things he sells to establish a sustainable niche in the local market?

These are questions that remain to be answered, but this reporter long ago developed a taste for cherry cider at the food co-op in Ypsilanti, Michigan, and hadn’t encountered that product since moving here more than a decade ago, until stopping in at Organica. And then there are the breads without sugar or preservatives, the fruits and vegetables raised without pesticides, the cheeses without chemical dyes, the long-grain basmati brown rice that’s on the other end of the quality spectrum from the pesticide- and fungicide-laced white stuff that dominates the Panamanian market, the dish and laundry soaps that don’t irritate sensitive skin. And…. And….

Most of what’s for sale at Organica, Jaén explained, is organic as the name implies. He’s networking with the small but growing band of Panamanian farmers who produce without chemicals, and importing many things from reputable certified companies in the United States and elsewhere. But he also carries items that are not strictly organic for people with special dietary needs, like an intolerance for gluten, hypertension that would be aggravated by salt, or diabetes that turns things that are sweet treats for others into deadly threats. You can get non-polluting household items, natural vitamins and homeopathic products at his store.

Organica is a resource that those who appreciate the simple but better things in life won’t want to lose. It’s been a long time coming, and let us hope that Panama will have stores like this forevermore.


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