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Global Health Craze Bypasses Panama

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Written by Matt   
Tuesday, 12 May 2009 06:18
Panama Health FoodI recently got word from a visiting New Yorker that the Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant chain would be succumbing to a global health craze and changing the name of their business to Kentucky Grilled Chicken. There would have been perhaps no justice had my first ensuing thought not been a prank phone call I made once back in college. It was around 2 AM and using an adult voice, shop I requested a midnight clerk at 7-11 in Richmond take down all the signs in her store. I gave the order directly from corporate headquarters due mainly to the nation's newly found aversion to the number eleven (think September 11th) in the name. "I'm going to need you to take down every sign in the store," I went on to tell Kalista. "You'll get the priority memo and we're going be bringing all new labeling. And this needs to happen fast. Really fast."

Kalista started to doubt my rouse when, in response to asking for a store clearance code, I told her to "hang on a sec, I gotta go to the bathroom real quick."

Needless to say, KFC's name change reflects a global shift in food: the rise of healthy fare and the fall of unhealthy fodder. Almost anywhere you go in the world, health food stores are popping up left and right; gym memberships and alternative fitness activities have seen giant spikes in clientele and a stress on fresh ingredients, nutritional portions, and everything that doesn't make you feel like a blob have all been rising in popularity. It's interesting therefore (though not surprising), that the Republic of Panama, a nation priding itself in an allure to internationals the world over, has so little options for the ever-growing health-nut demographic.

The Trader Joe's in Washington DC sells somewhere around six million types of extra virgin olive oil. The nut and berry section at Whole Foods is like a comprehensive hunter and gatherer museum display with stuff you've never heard about but desperately want to try. Every time I'm in these stores I feel so unbelievably outclassed: "Flax seed wafers," the store employee might say. "Can I interest you in any pomegranate essence or kaffir lime leaves? Oh how about some special arrugula micro-sprouts?"

"I beg your pardon?"

Their suggestions read like a who's-who list of inventions dreamt up by a biologist and a rabbit. Not knowing where they come up with the bevy of new lettuce strains is one thing. Knowing the serious shortage of such variety in Panama is quite another:

Fruits and veggies: Panama's climate is both it's greatest asset and it's worst enemy when it comes to scoring fresh fruits and vegetables. Refrigeration here is prohibitively expensive and day temperatures have a way of making even the stiffest of carrots limp like a raw hotdog. If you're lucky enough to taste a pineapple, mango, or cacao bean directly in season, you'll realize they're some of the best in the world. But why then, are most produce aisles like old person's homes where fruits and veggies are left to deteriorate against the passage of time?

Organics: One word, Organica. It's just about the only place I know in Panama City where the public can buy organic groceries. Unless you have a secret organic farmer contact, the limited aisles of Organica are basically your only option. It's like having only one friend at summer camp who's a total asshole. Otherwise, try some occasional farmers markets, particularly in places with high-net-worth individuals (El Valle, Boquete...etc) or importing them yourself.

Health food stores: There are quite simply three options for you to buy health food in Panama: Organica, the small sections at grocery stores Riba Smith and El Rey, and the Bal Harbor shopping center which has two little shops that sell unusually healthy things. There are several GNC outlets (and GNC-like outlets) that sell vitamins and powders in the two malls here but to sum things up: the selection at Wild Oats makes everything here look like a pile of shit with some broken wheat crackers in it.

Restaurants: While the majority of Panama's finer restaurants take into account the new-age diet, very few dedicate themselves solely to it. There are a few Chinese-run restaurants (which are terrific), one nook called La Novena and another called Casa Vegetariana in El Cangrejo, and a couple small establishments that feature healthy drinks. A new chain called Go Green is OK (the kind of place that would have its tofu handed to it in any respectable US city) and various other small cafes dabble on the side.
Health facilities: Outside of the few yoga studios and alternative medicine shops that are beginning to pop up, the level of health studios in Panama is increasingly good but not by any means great. There are about three decent gyms (by US standards), a few Olympic pools, a handful of tracks, and a surprisingly little amount of green space (soccer fields, basketball courts) available to the public. Many of those that do exist are poorly maintained. Perhaps Panama's greatest health facility is its climate and natural beauty whose rainforests, beaches, and flat rural land beckon enthusiasts out to play.

This article is not meant to be discriminatory or even condemning. It's simply a review that's worth posting for those who are looking to relocate from other countries, in particular large cities where health food and healthy living is simply a way of life. More and more, people show up and are disappointed with the lack of selection and while there are ways to get around this deficiency in Panama, they requires time, contacts, and a driving urge to take care of yourself.

Comments (2)Add Comment
Bocas del Toro
written by Maria E. , May 12, 2009
I live in Bocas del Toro and while I cannot explain it thoroughly (perhaps someone else can) I have to admit there are a small bevy of "healthy" options for the vacationer/resident. From healthy food to healthy living, Bocas seems to have attracted a crowd that appreciates that kind of thing. While town here is visually getting more and more the opposite of healthy (dirty, dangerous...etc), I must admit that I (similar to Matt) am blown away when I am in Panama City and there is NO WHERE TO GET GOOD GRANOLA!

Any one know why this happens is welcome to contribute smilies/smiley.gif
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written by Fingal , May 13, 2009
Yep, too true. Too true indeed. Matt is blown away when he is in Panama City. Lucky you too Maria E.
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Last Updated on Tuesday, 12 May 2009 06:25