I was at a birthday party on Saturday night where it was required to talk the small talk. kd got it started by asking the people around us how long they had been in
How long have you been here?
Since 1992, except for 2 years that I spent in
Wow! You must have seen some serious changes.
Well, yes, Julia, I have seen some serious changes. Today I am going to write about the food situation.
When I came over in 1992 I was semi-vegetarian, meaning that I ate dairy, eggs and fish, but did not eat birds or mammals. I came with Peace Corps and they put us into host families for the 2-month period of our language training. One of my first tasks in Czech was explaining to my host family what I would and would not eat. They didn’t get it at all – the Czech diet is meat-centred and they had ever met a vegetarian before.
It was summer and the family had a beautiful fruit and vegetable garden so vegetarian meals were easy. My host mom gave me lots of organic raw vegetables (she even cut them up for me) and fruit, bread and a piece of cheese or an egg. That was perfect for breakfast and supper; I had lunch, the main meal, at school.
The women who did the cooking in school had never met a vegetarian before either, and there were 3 of us. Some days they just gave us potatoes and some cabbage, other days they prepared something special for us. I ate a lot of omelettes and fried cheese that summer; the two items were the sum total of most vegetarian menus in restaurants as well.
Then summer was over and I moved to
I started eating meat again after 3 months in
One day a rumour spread amongst the foreigners that there was orange juice at Plus. We all scrambled down there and bought 2 or 3 litres each, no more because it was expensive and we didn’t expect it to disappear as mysteriously as it had arrived. But disappear it did, within a matter of days. It didn’t come back again for 6 weeks and then when it did, one of my American colleagues decided not to take chances and purchased 2 cases of it.
Meanwhile, back in The
I was in LA in the summer of 1993. I went into a Ralph’s grocery store there and nearly had a meltdown. I counted how many different kinds of orange juice there were, and I still remember: 19. That was counting only the half-gallon cartons of ready-to-drink pure orange juice – not counting the orange-banana or orange-pineapple juices or the frozen concentrates. The score:
But that wasn’t the worst of it. The actual tears came when my mom sent me into the toothpaste aisle to get myself some good American toothpaste to take back with me. I broke down because I couldn’t remember how to make a decision when faced with so many choices, all of them in fact the same. I didn’t even bother counting the toothpastes.
I used to go to
I first saw broccoli in
You can get anything and relative prices have come down. Today, for example, I bought organic green tea, whole grain pasta, soy milk, tahini and products that actually have “suitable for vegetarians” printed on the packaging. You can get all kinds of fruits and vegetables all the time – mangoes, melons, avocados, asparagus… There is way more fish than there used to be; the finer restaurants get their fish flown in fresh every day. I don’t even eat iceberg lettuce anymore because you can get every kind of leaf possible from romaine and lollo rosso to endive, frisée and rocket.
There are restaurants for nearly every kind of cuisine in
The only thing that reminds me of how things used to be is that occasionally a herb or spice will disappear from every shop in town at the same time. I have been looking for tarragon for months and have not been able to find it anywhere.
I now deal with the issue of toothpaste choice by always buying the same brand.