As I mentioned in my last post, the little things were powerful enough to change my life. But of course, there are other little things that I have experienced abroad that I wouldn’t like to live with forever. Some are comical, but many are sad truths about the world and food. Experiencing these other little things motivated me to question and think how I can change the world.
Etiquette: Eating pizza with a fork and knife
It is interested to see how pizza changes around the world.The toppings are the most obvious change, but just as important is the way it is eaten. In Brazil, they eat pizza with a fork and knife (and pour on ketchup and mustard as if it were a burger). This is a simple example of etiquette different my mine. It got me thinking about how many people use utensils out of habit and tradition (claim it as etiquette) than for more important pleasure/sanitary reasons. Etiquette has it’s place, but I don’t let it control me from experiencing different ways of eating. Sitting on the ground around a communal pot can be intimidating but you begin to learn what etiquette is important and what is not.
In the States, we spend a lot of money and time worrying about bugs infesting our kitchens. Many places I have visited around the world seem to be more accepting to flies landing on their food and ants crawling all over the place. This is not to say that they want bug infestation, but that their economic situation does not permit them to completely lockdown their houses, bomb the creatures with insecticides, then vacuum seal food with tupperware in a refrigerated bunker. Having food safe to eat is one thing, but I think americans need to loosen up a little bit on sanitation. Sadly, I have visited places where bacteria, disease, and sanitation are a real concern for the population. The more difficult part to accept is that sanitation is an economical and educational problem more so than just a medical issue. Be clean and organized so you don’t get sick, but don’t let it make you wasteful.
Food Access: Bowl of rice and broth in a shack
Some of the best meals I have ever had were not in fancy restaurants with the freshest foods but with people with little to no capital. The economically poor have to eat leftovers and go through much hardship for access to food. After a night of drinking and dancing, a Thai couple invited me into their home at 3 in the morning. The husband and I shared a single bowl of rice with spicy broth that I assume the wife took from her work, a kitchen that cooks for tourists. Everyday she figures out a new way to get something to eat, taking rich foreigners out to dinner, taking food from work, etc. I hate to think about it, but I wonder how many men have taken advantage of her? A common complaint I hear from people in foreign countries is that all the good quality food gets exported out of the country and the second grade, discolored, unwanted food is all that remains for them. As far a nutritional concern, the food is probably the same, but image the psychological problems it causes to a society.
Many travelers don’t want to experience the other little things while abroad, they prefer to have it their way. Dealing with conflicting etiquette, true sanitation dangers, and basic access to food are problems that many of us in the States have never had to experience. If you do run into one of these other little things I hope it will motivate you to change the world food system, so that everyone can have enough food that is safe, appropriate, healthy and gives a since of delight.
How about you? Have you had a food experience while abroad that shocked you?