Guatemalan food markets are a national institution. Bustling and sprawling, lining roads and street corners, freighted with fruit and vegetables, they are where Guatemalans come together. At a Guatemalan food market you haggle and bargain and mingle. You often find yourself being accommodated by a community of vendors – if one person doesn’t have what you are looking for then they will send word to their neighbour who does. The sense of communality is palpable, and the experience of this – often exhilarating, occasionally bewildering, always vivid – represents a stark contrast to the alienating anonymity that can characterise grocery shopping in air-conditioned Western supermarkets and mega-marts.
The colours on display in Guatemalan food markets are worth the trip alone. Deep yellow bananas, blazing pink watermelons, baskets of bright red and black and white beans. The country’s fertile volcanic soil is perfect for growing an array of remarkably sized produce – the giant avocados could be mistaken for dinosaur eggs – that, displayed together, create a rich tapestry of tones. And then there are the scents, the sharp aromas of so many different herbs and spices. Guatemalan food markets are a feast for the senses.
And yet, because of the unprecedented global pandemic, food markets in the country are currently under strain. In order to buy food, many Guatemalan families depend on remittance payments sent from family members in economically developed counties like the US. Since the COVID-19 pandemic struck, millions of people undertaking domestic work and manual labour in the US have found themselves unemployed, severing the support lines that help feed families back home. In addition, restrictions on public transport and travel have impacted the ability of people to access food markets and the ability of small-scale farmers to sell at them, increasing the price of certain staples. The resulting picture is of a worrying rise in food insecurity, particularly for poor and vulnerable groups. In June 2020, it was reported that 1.2 million people were in need of emergency food aid in Guatemala, an increase of 570,000 since the start of the year.
Various actions have been taken to try and arrest this situation. Vendors at food markets are wearing masks and health workers have conducted mass testing at urban markets to stop the spread of COVID-19. In spite of school closures, the government has continued the School Feeding Program, which provides a meal to around 2.5 million children each day. The World Bank and the United Nations World Food Programme are also piloting digital initiatives to address imbalances in food supply and demand and facilitate farmers to access a broader network of customers. With over 70,000 total cases of COVID-19, however, and – as of 31 Aug 2020 – over 9000 active cases, it is apparent that the lack of food security in Guatemala remains an area of acute concern.
Here at Trama Textiles we will do whatever we can to support the families of our weavers at this immensely difficult time, and eagerly look forward to the day when the food markets – a sure indicator of the nation’s health – are back to pre-pandemic levels of bustle and busyness.