March 1, 2024

Food Column Goes Abroad – You Better Belize It

Author feeds Sylvia the Jaguar. Courtesy of Zachary Daly.

By Zachary Daly ’18
Food Columnist

In this issue- the food column is going INTERNATIONAL.

Over winter break, I was blessed to travel for four credits. The international seminar, a Natural History of Belize, tore me away from the frozen tundra of New England and dropped me and twenty-one of my closest friends into the tropics.

For two blissful weeks the class trekked throughout the country, seeing and experiencing a new culture which often took place through the medium of food.

While in Belize, we frequently experienced the country’s go-to meal of rice, beans, and chicken on the bone. So much is uncertain when traveling, and the meal became a pseudo comfort food. The chicken was consistently well marinated and always tender. Without fail I would end each meal, content and satisfied amidst the chaos of bones and greasy napkins.

But, for any student bored with the predictable meals, a surprise was coming.

On an educational walk to learn about plants with medicinal values, our guide, Incencio, who wielded a machete like it was nobody’s business, promptly pointed out a termites’ nest.

Watching a smirk appear on his face I knew we were in trouble. Breaking off a small piece of the nest, our man exposed hundreds of angry termites. He then proceeded to pinch a few between his fingers and swallowed them whole.

Wow! My first thought was which medicinal plant saves a person from death by termite?

After reading the fear that rippled across the faces of the twenty Americans before him, he quickly laughed, made a joke, and encouraged us to take part in this afternoon delight.

Squeamishly, a few brave souls and I pinched the helpless termites and grimaced as they went down to wreak havoc on our dainty, first world stomachs.

To my surprise, the termites were not bad, and carved out a favorable place in my memory with their distinct flavor reminiscent of dill pickle.

While the termites will never be forgotten, rest in peace little guys, this was not the best meal of the trip.

The best meal of the trip was not had by a Gordon College student.

Nay, the best meal of the trip was not even had by a human!

The best meal of the trip was had by Sylvia, a rehabilitating Jaguar.

Once an uncontested apex predator, Sylvia the Jaguar has fallen on hard times.

This beautiful feline used to roam the jungle hunting prey with glee, but then hardship came her way; she broke a canine tooth. Boom. Just like that this spotted goddess fell from her perch at the top of the food chain, and could no longer hunt wild prey with ease and finesse. Desperate, Sylvia started attacking domestic animals.

Most likely Sylvia would have initially intended for a one time hit and run. Get meat and get out.

But as so often becomes the case with injured jaguars, Sylvia enjoyed the easy meat and fell into some unhealthy habits (don’t we all from time to time). Sylvia was creating a dangerous reputation of going after the domestic animals of a nearby village.

Yet, the final straw was when Sylvia consumed eight dogs in one night. The death of Fido and Fluffy was too much for the locals, and to be frank they were ready to end Sylvia’s life with a bullet through the head.

Thankfully, the Belize Zoo runs the Problem Jaguar Rehabilitation Program. The prime candidate, Sylvia, was enrolled thus saving her life and beginning the path towards healing and restoration.

A handful of Gordon College students were able to play a small role in her path toward recovery. With the aid of the Zoo Director, Sharon Matola, those who wished were able to hand feed the powerful feline palm sized chunks of raw chicken. Slimy to the touch, but everything Sylvia yearned for.

The experience was ethereal for the students, as the jaguar received the raw chicken from their trembling hands. While the students were in awe of a one time experience, there was a sense of sadness. The meal represented the constraints on Sylvia’s new lease on life. I could only imagine how eating raw chicken from a plastic bucket with the flash of twenty iphones compares to eating wild prey in an undisturbed rainforest. Yet thankfully the meal does represent the jaguar’s second chance at life, not as free as she used to be, but still alive.  

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