Sunday, June 25, 2006

Trust or Trout?

Trucha, in Spanish, means trout. To you and me, trout is a fish. However, to this nation which consumes a meagre average of 8kgs of fish per capita per year, trucha (fem.)/ trucho (mas.) is more often a slang word for things or people that cannot be trusted.

Tengo confianza (I have confidence) is a phrase one hears often in this town due to the constant need to distinguish the truchas from the real deal because there are just too many of the particular varietal in this pond. When you think "the word" or a handshake carries the same weight here, YOU ARE WRONG. Precisely because so much is being said and promised by everyone to anyone, unless you see a written contract thick as a dictionary or the promised delivered, it is all just hot air. No one seems to take offence – a "trucha/o" uttered with a shrug and life goes on - it is all too common an occurrence to get offended.

In one short year, we have been disappointed after business meetings where the other party shook our hands, looked us in the eye and said "we must work on this together"; in social situations where friends and extended family said "let's meet up next week" and disappeared until whenever you run into them again; and in our daily lives when professionals do not keep their appointments (two sets of friends are still waiting for their respective garden designer to turn up after a year). I commiserate with my fellow settlers while our Argentine partner and family shrug.

It seems we need a crash course from the locals on telling which are the truchas, only it is a fine art that can only be learnt through paying our dues. Lesson one – look out for someone's tengo confianza recommendation, the phrase is deemed as good as any ISO quality guarantee. Lesson two – when even the recommended falls through, just shrug. This grasshopper is still figuring out lesson 3...

I actually need the lesson rather quickly...I have been buying organic groceries from a lady who has a shop named El Rincon Organico (The Organic Corner) in Palermo. She seems muy simpatica (very friendly) and the promotional leaflets are printed on unbleached papers, etc. While Demeter qualification is compulsory in some countries to list a product as organic, the application and qualification process are costly so it didn't occur to me not to trust the source of this lady's procurements even though there is no official guarantee.

One day, I was looking at her receipt made of unbleached paper to realise it said, in fine but not unnoticeable font, that it was not a valid record of transaction. It dawned on me that she may be evading tax! Well, I'm not assuming that an organic vendor or consumer, for that matter, should be saintly but tax evasion is a criminal offence!
Who knows, maybe such behaviour is viewed differently in this country as I've encountered a lot of similar "no valido como factura"(not valid as a receipt) receipts. These premises are just clausurado (shut by a government authority) for a while, then they re-open and life goes on.

What really planted doubts in my mind, however, are her apples which have refused to rot! We bought some Granny Smiths' from her a month ago and had forgotten about them. When Guillermo declared he only liked cooked green apples, I planned to make some compote to go with porridge in the morning. I never got round to it so when I discovered these apples this morning, still pristine, in perfectly edible state a month later, I was flabbergasted! Most health-conscious consumers who are willing to fork out the extra for organic perishables probably would have consumed their purchases too quickly to discover any smell of rot or rat.

These apples come unwaxed unlike the normal ones, but that's about it. So my dilemma is: do I continue to buy from this non-receipt issuing organic grocer which is one of only a couple in town or do I rejoin the mainstream. There has never been any doubt in Guillermo's mind, "Give me GM and non-organic!!" Like many Argentines, he thinks the anti-GM campaign is just propaganda from Europe because the Europeans refuse to pay the considerable patent fees to Mont Santo, the Canadian company which holds intellectual property rights to GM technology.

As to buying organic to avoid pesticides, we have been told by an agronomo (agriculturalist) in the family, with whom tengo confianza, that unlike farmers in the US and the EU who get massive subsidies from pesticide producers to use their products, Argentine farmers simply cannot afford such luxury in spades. Hence, the farmers have to use pesticides judiciously.
Not satisfied, I went on to grill him to find out more on the organic producers here and their products. His reply gave me more than a glimpse of the problem facing this country - while the industry is growing, it is still difficult to export because of too many truchas!!

I feel lost and tired on this issue; so for lunch, I am just going to open a tin of sardines, slice a non-organic fennel, caramelise the slices in a pan with some non-organic olive oil, and then fold the two ingredients into some linguini. To my version of instant noodles, Guillermo had previously declared “es fantastico!” Why did I bother with organic in the first place ?

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