Lean, ‘finely textured’ meat, processed from unmentionable parts of cattle and now known as ‘pink slime’ isn’t found in Guatemala unless it’s found in an imported food section of a specialty store in Guatemala City.
Beef in Guatemala is relatively fat-free: They might be considered to be ‘free range’ and they’re not penned up on feed lots. The country isn’t famed for cattle ranching and the largest herd that I’ve ever seen were black water buffalos. On the weekends the one way trip from a small farm is two or three slim beasts packed in the back of a Japanese pick-up truck. One Monday morning the freshly parceled sections are carried in, one haunch at a time into the local ‘supermercado’. The non-union butchers then slice and dice portions to order, one at a time. There’s no shrink wrap but there is a price sticker with a bar code and that’s as modern as it gets in Antigua.
Once you become used to the old-fashioned concept of ‘freshly ground’ there’s no going back. If you lived in Antigua and the red flag was flying on 6th Avenida Norte, you can choose your portion rather than your poison and Jose de Jesus Garve is there to serve. He’s been there for over thirty two years and unlike the Burger King around the corner he serves one customer at a time. His small store has one counter, one stainless steel rack and twelve hooks. There’s an old wooden stump in the rear of this 12X12 emporium, used as the butcher block and one gray and well used meat grinder. Ask for a pound of hamburger or ‘una libra de carne molida’ and he may have to stretch a bit to reach a hanging section of beef. He may be ‘heighth challenged’ but he always has a smile and behind his thick glasses his eyes twinkle.
The piece of freshly cut beef is then fed into the grinder behind him and to the left of the shop: with one hand holding a small wooden pestle, the other has a plastic bag over the outlet. The amount selected is plopped into a set of white and chipped porcelain-covered scales, the dial spins and there’s a pound of fresh ground beef, the old fashioned way. None of this ‘lean, finely textured and ammoniated beef by-products, aka fat and connective tissue.’ and if you live on the West Coast, going to the Safeway for meat might have a new meaning now.