The Meat We Eat

Many people say that the best way to pay homage to an animal that you plan to consume is to understand and appreciate its life cycle (from birth to free grazing farm to supermarket).  There is a prevalent belief that those of us eating meat without a full understanding of where it originated is not only ignorant, but sacrilege.   Some even go so far as to assert that one must be a participant in the slaughtering of the animal to truly honor the life of the animal that they are about to eat.  I can’t say that I ever paid much attention to any of these concepts and probably made more of an effort to avoid having this knowledge for the majority of my life.  Now, living in Nicaragua, this concept is much more real.  More often than not, the meat we eat is no longer from Arkansas (Tyson), but is from our neighbor’s front yard…literally.

The other day, I came home from Managua on a sunny afternoon to find a slaughtered baby pig hanging from a tree in our driveway.  This was no religious sacrifice, but preparation for a party to be hosted by my landlord later in the week.  I had the train-wreck syndrome;  I was equally horrified and curious and couldn’t decide whether to stay and stare or run into the house.  I chose the latter only to be confronted by Wilbur at the party a few days later.   That evening, Justin feasted on the piglet, while I stuck to the homemade bread and marmalade.  Ironically, I also ate some bacon wrapped dates, but somehow, this felt less abusive than eating the pig direct from the carcass.  A 4 year old at the party grilled the host on why he had killed the pig.  To placate the poor girl, he described an elaborate story in which he came upon a suffering pig along the side of the road and after a failed attempt to revive the pig with CPR, it passed away peacefully – then he cooked it.  She walked away semi-content with the reponse.  The 32 year old inside me felt a little better, too.

More and more, I have struggled with the concept of dining on the chickens that I valiantly try to avoid hitting with my car as I drive home each evening.  I am mildly excited when someone on our sailing trip catches a fish, but the moment it is reeled in, I move to the other end of the boat.  I can’t handle being the metaphorical fish out of water.  Try watching the real thing.  It’s difficult having items from my grocery list as neighbors.

So, am I making the natural transition to vegetarianism?  Is this how it all begins?  Eating meat directly off the bone has always made me feel a bit cannibalistic.  But more recently, I have found myself hesitating with chicken breasts, fish filets, and hamburgers.  Perhaps it has something to do with the winding pastoral landscapes complete with grazing cows and lamb (chops).  The first trimester of my pregnancy didn’t help, as a slight discomfort with certain meat turned into an all out chicken aversion for three months.  For whatever hormonal reason, the very thought of eating chicken could make me gag.

I attempted vegetarianism once in my life.  After a summer away at sleepover camp, I came home to my parents and proudly proclaimed my new vegetarian status.  My parents smiled and commended my efforts and promptly turned their backs to share a questioning glance that asked, “how long will THIS phase last?”  Not long.  I struggled to justify my new-found vegetarianism to friends and neighbors and most importantly, to myself.  Had I really adopted this new diet for reasons beyond the fact that it’s what the cool kids were doing?  Two weeks later, I was sinking my teeth into juicy burgers at the neighborhood party.

As a “mature” adult, I’m still not so sure that I’m ready for the vegetarian commitment.  It’s an even more difficult feat to achieve here in Nicaragua.  Though the country is poor and the diet subsists primarily on rice and beans, Nicaragua is still a meat country at heart.  Just count the number of fritangas (chicken ladies) in the street every evening around supper time, cooking up chicken, pork, and beef on their outdoor grills for a few cordobas.

An Irishman, Justin has meat and potatoes in his genetic makeup.  He would never make the transition with me.  And, if we ever moved back to the States and I had a little distance between myself and the local farm, will the plight of Bessie and Nemo become but distant memories?

For now, with a baby on the way in need of a well-balanced diet (which I don’t have the knowledge to provide sans meat), I won’t make any drastic changes.  But rest assured, it’s only going to get harder.

Monthly Budget for an Expat living in Nicaragua


A number of people have emailed me requesting information on the cost of living here in Nicaragua.  At long last, here it is.  Please note that this is based solely on my experience here, with my husband.  Each traveler will have a different set of needs and therefore, a different budget.  I would also note that if you are seriously considering a move here, it is helpful to have a minimum of a few months of living expenses already saved, as well as money set aside for a trip back home, if necessary.  Do not operate under the assumption that you will be gainfully employed here, as Nicaragua currently has an unemployment rate of 3.9% and an underemployment rate of 46.5%.  The exchange rate is approximately 20 Nicaraguan Cordobas to the US Dollar.


This number varies greatly depending on where, within Nicaragua, you decide to live.  San Juan and other more touristy areas tend to cost more.  San Juan, 1-2 bedrooms: anywhere from $250-$600/month.  We are currently living in a furnished 1-bedroom for appx. $500/month, but it includes water, electric (plus back-up), security, housekeeping 2x/week, Internet, and cable TV.


This cost also depends heavily on where you live.  If you have an apartment that draws from the town water supply, you are likely to spend approximately $10.  If you live in a development, outside of town, you might have significantly higher water bills, especially if you have a pool.


A basic monthly electric bill will run you approximately $15 via Union Fenosa.  However, if you have air conditioning and intend to use it, expect to pay a significantly higher monthly bill. 


Most homes have propane-powered stoves/ovens.  They typically come with a gas tank that you refill as needed.  A small tank costs approximately $15 to fill and will last you a few months.

Cell Phone:

Cheap, burner phones can be purchase in town starting at approximately $20.  Minutes can be purchased as needed. There are 2 phone companies here – Claro and Movistar.  People claim that Claro has better coverage, but most people I know have Movistar.  It’s helpful to know that calling between the two companies (i.e. Movistar to Claro) is almost as expensive, if not more expensive, than calling back home to the States.  But, calling within your company (i.e. Movistar to Movistar) costs very little.  So, if you already have friends here, find out what they have and consider getting that.

Cable TV:

You have 3 options for television (cable via Estesa, satellite TV via SKY or pirated satellite tv).  Cable runs about $18/month, SKY begins around $32/month and pirated is free once you buy the dish and the box.  


In order to have internet, you need to have a cable connection, via Estesa.  Internet costs anywhere from $30 – $50/month depending on your connection speed.

 Car Fuel:

Cost of fuel is hovering around 15-16 cordobas/liter for diesel.  We can fill our tank (a Trooper) for about USD$50.  Regular gas is slightly cheaper.  Premium gas is slightly more. If you plan to own a car, don’t forget to figure in the cost of minor repairs, as well.  We take our car to the mechanic on a monthly basis down here.  We haven’t had any major problems, but maintenance takes on an entirely new meaning when you are driving on unpaved roads.  


A loaf of whole wheat bread = 32 Cords (appx. USD$1.70)

A dozen eggs = 35 cords (appx. USD$ 1.80)

1 lb butter = 62 cords (appx. USD$3.25)

Imported items, such as granola bars, JIF peanut butter, will cost more.  There is a Pali grocery store, here in San Juan del Sur.  You can also purchase many of your food needs at a local pulperia.  La Colonia and La Union are larger grocery stores, located in Granada, Managua, and other larger towns.


As for entertainment, during the day, you can rent a surfboard ($10), an ATV ($20), take a canopy tour ($30), or hike to the lighthouse or Jesus, swim, bike ride, hit the beach, etc. for free.  You can also take Spanish classes, which range in price depending on the number of hours you want to study.


At night, bars are usually free to get into.  Beers are typically less than a buck.  You can also order a media, which consists of a half-liter of rum, a bottle of coke, and a bottle of soda water, a bucket of ice, and some limes for under $10.  A few places in town also have either a DJ or live music at night, including Coquito’s Bar.


For dinner, you can treat yourself to one of the finer restaurants in town, like El Pozo, and spend C$220 on an awesome steak with sides (about $12).  On the flipside, you can visit one of the fritangas (Chicken Lady) and get half a chicken, gallo pinto, salad, and tostones for C$80 (4 bucks) or the local market for a hearty $2 breakfast.  And then there is everything in between including a great Mediterranean Restaurant (El Colibri) with awesome Sangria and stuffed chicken (for under 7 bucks), and Bambu (Nicaraguan cuisine with an Asian twist) which serves incredible pizza on Monday nights and panini sandwiches every day.

Health Insurance:

My husband and I both have international health insurance through International Medical Group.  It was on the more expensive side, but we purchased it prior to moving here, wanting to ensure that we had some coverage.  We have yet to use it (knock on wood).  Since moving here, we have learned of local companies that provide coverage – Seguros America, being one that I think is less expensive and provides tiered coverage.


Medical Cost:

We have both had regular appointments with physicians at Vivian Pellas Hospital in Managua and were very pleased.  The hospital was like any hospital I’ve visited in the States and the equipment was state of the art, including a lab and pharmacy.  My entire appt., including consultation, lab work, etc. was about $50.  I would steer clear of the Centro de Salud here in San Juan, unless absolutely necessary.  However, there are local pharmacies here in town that employ doctors.  If you have a run of the mill cold or rash, you can pay C$30 (less than 2 dollars) for a consult with the physician.  


I don’t know anything about dental insurance, but I do know that there are plenty of reliable dentists in Managua and that you can get a cleaning for about $25.  When Justin and I first visited Nicaragua over 2 years ago, I ended up having an emergency root canal while in Leon.  It was the exact procedure my husband ended up having 2 weeks later back in Boston, but mine cost $150, while his cost $1,000 after insurance!  So, needless to say, we have been very pleased by both the quality and cost of medical care here so far.

I hope those of you reading this find it helpful.  Feel free to email me with any questions!