In my last post, I wrote about the Cesta Básica (CB), a basic package of foods that my host family and I eat everyday. Another month has passed and we received our CB, this time there was no toothpaste but some coffee. When opening up the CB and putting the items away, I thought about about my mom, my biological mother that is, coming home from the grocery store and together my family would “upload” the car full of plastic bags. Here in Belo Horizonte, they just passed a law banning plastic bags and my the way we store food is very different.
Basically, there are three places where we store food in my Brazilian home–well, three visible places that is, because my family is know for hiding food as well, comer na graveta (eating in the draw)–in Kitchen Jars, the Refrigerator, and my host Dad’s Closest.
Keeping basic ingredients in kitchen jars seems like something from my grandmother’s era. I grew up in the plastic world of pre-packaged processed foods, zip lock bags, and Tupperware (notice how the last two are brand names). Yet, here in Brazil it common to have a collection of 6 to 10 kitchen jars containing the basic foods they eat. My home has 5 Potes Mantimentos (Grocery Pots), listed from largest to smallest respectively:
- Arroz (Rice)
- Açúcar (Sugar)
- Farinha (Cassava meal)
- Fubá (Corn meal)
- Café (Coffee)
In the past, a lot of people used a 6th container for Feijão (beans) but now most people just cook batches from the 1kilo bags.
Looking at kichen jar’s size, number, material used in their construction, what ingredients stored inside can say a lot about Brazilian society.
What kitchen jars are common in the States? In your home? A cookie jar?
The frige is the second most popular place to store food in my home. One day I opened up our Geladera and saw the following:
- A pot with milk that was old and spoiled when my family bought it. They refused to throw it away, because it could be used for something. After about a month, I pitched it. For some reason I felt kinda bad not knowing how to utilize it.
- Half a head of cabbage, one of the few vegetables that my family Mineira eat.
- A leftover dinner plate that my mom didn’t finish eating (spaghetti and beans).
- A plate of chicken bones (don’t know what we did with this).
- A plate of frozen fat. I think that it was pork fat.
- Bowl of Chuchu that I chopped up.
- A pitcher of juice that I made from the orange tree in the front lawn.
- Plastic container of Tempeiro (a mixture of salt, garlic, parsley, and green onion) that my family uses universally to season everything. My mom also makes Tempeiro to sell, but it rarely gets sold because she is not physically capable (obesity) to walk around and sell it. Even though she pays my brother to sell it for her, he doesn’t do it because there is little profit and with the few hours he gets away from college and work, he would rather do other things like sleep.
My refrigerator here is so different from my mother’s (full of condiments) or grandmother’s (full of food that goes bad) in the States. Even though this refrigerator looks poor and empty, I think there are many positive things that we can learn from it.
What is your refrigerator like? How do you use it to store food?
The most socially complexed of all the areas that we store food in my home is my host father’s closet. In addition to the tons of random stuff that he saves in there, there is a metal self that acts as our food pantry. Unlike many pantries in the States, our pantry does not hold a variety of goods that we like to have on hand to eat, instead most of our food is surplus from the Cesta Básica. When something runs out in the kitchen jars, we are allowed to go in a take a replacement. At first, I did not understand why they didn’t keep the food pantry in the kitchen, but over time I learned their eating ways and realized the more food out, the more they will consume and are likely to waste.
Initially, I was surprised to see that my host father never locks his closet, considering that he tries to control food consumption and utilizes every little bit possible. There is a lot more to the social politics of his closet but that investigation will require much more timing living with my host family.
Some might read this blog post feeling sad for my family for lacking an American style pantry, yet I have come to learn what is more sad is our foodways in the States. With our abundance, we don’t respect food and spend most of our time complaining about it. I argue that really, we are the poor and dumb.