Tuesday, January 6, 2009


Rob and I have been here almost two months to the day.

Even though our transition here has been smooth, there are still some things I miss badly. Apart from family, number two for me has got to be grocery stores. In Atlanta we had fantastic grocery stores: Whole Foods, Publix, Kroger, Trader Joes, International Food Warehouses, and every type of specialty store you could imagine.

I miss choice, I miss variety, I miss imports, I miss out of season fruits flown in from Mexico, I miss fresh fish and aisles of frozen pizzas. I miss ingredient labels that I can read (or just ingredient labels period).

I used to roll my eyes at an entire half aisle devoted to different types of mayonnaise - low fat, nonfat, nothing but fat, with olive oil, with lime, with poly unsaturated fats and omega-3. Now, I want to have to chose from all of these. And even though we rarely bought cereal before, I've decided I do need an entire grocery aisle devoted to it. An aisle lined with cartoon characters and boxes filled with prizes.

Rob and I shopped at farmers markets a ton before Rwanda. I was also once paid in veggies by a local organic farm for my work there. I bought locally whenever possible and made sure we ate as wholesome as possible to begin a habit of feeding my family good foods, while also supporting local farming efforts and thrifty shopping. So I don't feel at all guilty for missing rows and rows of coke and snack chips and a meat department stocked with any cut of any meat I could want.

I will not be an expat who returns and touts, "in Rwanda I could get a pineapple for a dollar," or, "in Rwanda, everything we ate was fresh." Fresh, maybe, we've got eggs fresher than I've ever wanted, but where they come from I have no idea whether it's my next door neighbor or a government egg cooperative. As Americans we like disclosure, transparency. As Americans, choice makes us happy. It doesn't matter that we kept our budget so tight that we didn't shop at Whole Foods, or that we never bought the latest snack food that came out. What matters is that it was there and I could choose to buy it or not.

The aspect of choice permeates American culture from childhood on; Parent's tell their kids you can choose what after school sport to do, would you like to be a lawyer or doctor, what ramifications are there, if any, for children who choose not to do their homework? Choice. It is everywhere in our culture. In hindsight, I should have expected this adjustment as an avid lover of food, but I didn't realize then how limited food choices would be such a fundamental adjustment. There is just something about the presence of choice that makes Americans feel happier, wealthier, more complete, more in control.

If I ever begin to romanticize about how well we ate in Rwanda (and we absolutely do eat well), I will march myself down to Central Market or Roots in Lancaster County and enjoy fresh local foods there. Missing grocery stores now will not change our family's eating habits or shake my love of fresh foods and simple cooking values. However, I am confident that the next time I go into an American grocery store I'll whisper a little prayer and stare at shiny foil packages, pre-prepared meals, and baking mixes for hours. I will buy my favorite off-brand $2 granola bars and walk out quite a happy girl.

Oh home, land of many choices.

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