Compiled by Melissa Kaplan
Articles like the ones that follow have been appearing in the world press for years now, their appearance always coinciding with the Easter holiday.
eating those green iguanas
The ban is in effect from Feb. 1 to April 30, covering Holy Week, during which Nicaraguans traditionally cook a soup-like dish called Indio Viejo (Old Indian), made with iguanas, vegetables and ground corn, and Pinol de Iguana, a form of breaded iguana.
The ban is intended to prevent the slaughter of the green iguana, known to science as Iguana iguana, in its reproductive cycle, said Milton Camacho, an official of the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources.
People caught eating them during the ban face fines of 50 cordabas ($5.50) per iguana.
The green iguana, native to Central America, inhabits Nicaragua's riverbank forests. It is rated as threatened in Nicaragua and could easily become an endangered species if the ban is not observed, Camacho told Reuters.
Servings cost the equivalent of $0.45 to $1.35 in U.S. currency; more than the food value would seem to justify. No doubt customers were induced to pay the high prices because of the supposed medicinal properties of the stew.
The mystique of medicinal value seems to be a major factor behind the trade in live iguanas and the stew made from them. Various human ailments and particularly impotence, are believed to be cured or relieved by the flesh (especially that of the spiny-tailed iguana). Hence the purchasers willingly pay much more for these lizards than they would for equivalent amounts of fish, poultry, pork or beef.
Some of the educated Latin Americans with whom we discussed iguanas seemed reluctant to express enthusiasm over their edible qualities, or even to admit having partaken of the flesh. They seemed to consider iguanas uncouth and ugly animals, hardly suitable fare for civilized folk, and better left to unsophisticated aborigines.
Scattered references suggest that in various cultures in Mexico, Central America and South America, iguanas have been an important food source since prehistoric times, and that some of the customs that we observed in the 1970's are based on long standing traditions. For example Pagden (1975:145) cited an early account of the Mayas in Yucatan (between 1549 and 1563), which described in some detail their use of iguanas. The account stated of iguanas that: they are ". . . a most remarkable and wholesome food. There are so many of them that they are a great assistance to everyone during Lent. The Indians fish for them with snares which they fasten in trees and in their holes. It is remarkable how they endure hunger for it often happens that they remain alive for twenty or thirty days after capture without eating a morsel and without becoming thin.
is iguana soup time in Nicaragua
Superstition, religion and popular tradition are the cultural ingredients that go into Nicaragua's iguana soup, loved for its supposed nutritive and aphrodisiac powers.
As Easter approaches, the Nicaraguan diet consists largely of iguanas, which grow to three feet in length, not including their tails, and are most often either cooked in a rice and vegetable soup called "sopa de garrobo" or made into "pinol," or paste.
"We eat these little animals at Easter Week because it's tradition," said Lilian Sevilla, who raises iguanas in Masaya, about 17 miles southeast of Managua.
She was surrounded in their tiny pen by some 500 of the scaly reptiles, oversized lizards found from Mexico to Panama and considered endangered in some areas. Green iguanas, in fact, enjoy federal protection in Nicaragua, but only from December 1 to March 31. After that, they are fair game.
In Masaya, Sevilla's lizards have grown accustomed to a human presence and may even look forward to seeing her. She serves them a daily ration of vegetable concentrate, a diet consumers believe ensures the meat is healthy and wholesome.
As the holiday approaches, the reptiles will be sold for anywhere from $1.50 to $10 each.
Alternative to red
Leonardo Chavez, head of biodiversity at Managua's Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources, said the ministry liaised with police, peasants and environmental organizations to ensure the seasonal ban was enforced.
But if a farmer is caught with a basketful of lizards, they are simply released into the wild with no sanctions imposed. "Basically we seek to stop it and confiscate them (the iguanas)," Chavez told Reuters.
The Catholic Church's restrictions on eating red meat during Lent are one reason Nicaragua's typical holiday meal consists of reptiles.
Iguana paste is also a good strong remedy for common illnesses, said Mayci Rostran, a housewife who buys iguanas at the market for her family. "It's a typical Nicaraguan dish and everyone in Nicaragua eats it," she said.
In market stalls around the country, live iguanas are piled into bins, their legs and mouths bound. The females are swollen with eggs as their ovulation occurs from April to June.
"I like it because it keeps me strong," said Jose Martinez, a vendor at Managua's sprawling Mercado Oriental (Eastern Market), as he gulped down his bowl of soup.
Julia Villalta, owner of cafeteria "Julita" in the Central Market, affirmed that the soup is packed with vitamins and aphrodisiac qualities.
"This is the stuff that raises the dead," she said with a laugh. "Where two lie down, three will get up."
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