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[For an audio version of this blog story click here.]

A boy, about 12 years old, regularly comes into one of my panadería offices asking for food.

Unfortunately, such a scene is not unusual in these parts.

The panadería's pudgy pauper

Rather than helping the bread-begging boy, are we killing him softly?

Pan out
However, what makes this particular pauper stand out from the stream of other mendicants is that he seems well, nay overly, fed and is rather neat in appearance. Also, he doesn’t appear — thankfully enough, especially considering his youth — to have a drug problem.

He might, though, have a sweet-bread addiction. This would help to explain both his pudginess and penchant for the panadería.

Now, before I am accused of being both cruel and a hypocrite — I’ve previously documented my predilection for certain panadería delights — I’m not completely begrudging the boy of this farinaceous favour.

An occasional — occasional that is — bit of bread isn’t the worst thing he could consume. And because he’s plump doesn’t mean he’s sufficiently satiated.

One concern, however, is that if his diet consists chiefly of highly processed bread, then he’s most likely facing into an adulthood of health problems.

Were I to offer him a serving of one of my vegetable stew specials, I wager he’d turn it down. (He never actually approaches me, though. I must have a mean look to me.)

So, there’s a chance that he’s a *foti* — fat on the outside, thin on the inside — but in a negative way (the standard view is that a foti is healthier than a *tofi*, thin on the outside, fat on the inside). This is to say, he’s not getting the right nutrition. He’s got plenty of company on that front.

‘It’s a sign that I’ve been in Colombia too long that I have doubts about the bona fides of the boy’s begging.’

Indeed, most of the fare on offer in Colombia’s ten-a-peso panaderías should come with a health warning. In addition to high quantities of salt and/or sugar glued together with poor-quality flour, the majority of bakeries use what are in essence poisonous margarines and preservatives.

The giveaway is in the shelf-life. I don’t think I’ve ever seen panadería products go mouldy. One can only wonder what these powerful preservatives do to one’s microbiome.

Beg to differ
As for eating wholesomely, some argue that pursuing a healthy diet is far more difficult for society’s less well-off. Unhealthier foods are cheaper and more convenient.

That doesn’t fully hold true in Colombia. Here, when it comes to diet, it’s not always money that does the talking. Convenience often does the “conversing”, coupled with, I guess, cravings.

This is because one can buy fresh fruit and vegetables at competitive prices all year round.

Fruit & veg shop, Bogotá, Colombia

Colombia’s fruit & veg: Cheap-ish and cheerful (if they’re not overly laden with chemicals).

In my part of Bogotá, it’s common to see a range of such foodstuffs retailing at around 1,000 pesos per pound — bananas, butternut squash, carrots, green beans, papaya, peppers, potatoes, pumpkin, tomatoes and much more besides.

Throw in the amazing avocado, regularly on offer for five for 2,000 pesos, and we’ve got the makings of a fairly cheap salubrious snack. (One only hopes, naively perhaps, that these natural goodies aren’t laden with harmful pesticides.)

OK, fish, meat and poultry aren’t quite as economical but they’re not off the charts either, not when compared to what one might fork out for a nutritionally poor panadería treat.

This is why I say convenience and cravings do the conversing, not monetary concerns.

Fair enough, not everyone has access to kitchen facilities to cook food from scratch. And Colombia’s worst-paid urban workers often have little free time on a typical day. Between the commute and work itself, 14-hour shifts are common.

As for my panadería’s pudgy pauper, I’d have to engage in some espionage to find out his exact circumstances.

A sign, perhaps, that I’ve been in Colombia for too long that I have doubts, owing to his overall demeanour, about the bona fides of his begging.

Would he take a banana as readily as he takes a bit of bread? Maybe if it was deep-fried he would.
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La vida en Colombia desde la perspectiva de un periodista y locutor irlandés, quien ha vivido en el país desde 2011. El blog explora temas sociales y culturales, interacción con los nativos, viajes, actualidades y mucho más. Escucha su podcast acá: https://anchor.fm/brendan-corrigan.

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