In the guest post below, Mariana Ashley shares with us her story of how it took living in another country for her to truly understand what it meant to eat a natural diet composed of REAL foods – – truly real foods; not the pseudo-“natural” processed stuff promoted by much of the American food industry.
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“If you live in America, you know how difficult it can be to maintain a diet completely composed of whole, unadulterated foods. Of course, the slow food, green movement that’s blossomed in America over the past decade or so has made it easier in some ways, but there’s just as much marketing of supposedly “healthy, natural” foods that has served only to confuse consumers who want to live a genuinely natural lifestyle.
After years of subsisting on American staples, eating fast food several times a week, going out for dinner, etc., my mother tried to switch things up by committing to natural, organic foods. Unfortunately, most of these foods were processed and packaged, and they paid only lip service to natural foods. If it was labeled natural, organic, or diet, my mother–God bless her–just assumed it was healthy and wholesome.
It wasn’t until I studied abroad in Russia my junior year of college that I realized what it means to actually consume “real food.” Of course, don’t get me wrong—there are plenty of McDonald’s and other American fast food chains in Russia, and there were lots of food items at the grocery store that were far from being healthy or unprocessed. But in Russia, especially outside very urban areas, eating whole foods is far from being an expression of trendiness as it is in many parts of the developed, Westernized world. It’s just a fact of life.
Grocery stores in Russia are very unassuming places. Most of them are the size of convenient stores in America and carry only the essentials, like milk, eggs, cheese, a few selections of meat and produce. If the vegetables and fruits are not in season, they don’t carry them. For most items, there are only two or three brands available at the most. Some items, like milk, had only one choice. The simple, red-and-white label read “Milk.” No skim, no two percent, no brand label with pictures and marketing. Just milk.
For someone like me, who is completely overwhelmed by the overabundance of brand choice in your typical American grocery store, going to a Russian grocery store became an actually enjoyable experience precisely because of this simplicity. Look at your typical grocery store item in Russia, and you could bet your bottom dollar that the number of listed ingredients could be counted on one hand.
Most Russian families make quick trips to these grocery stores. When it came to purchasing items for making full-fledged meals, it was off to one of the many outdoor markets, which is an experience in and of itself. The Russian family I lived with loved food and loved the bonding experience endemic to meal times in your typical Russian home. I’d never experienced anything like it.
In America, it almost seems that families eat together out of a certain sense of anxiety about the breakdown of family values. Children and teens in America cannot wait to leave the table and get on with their lives on their cell phones or televisions. In Russia, at least in my experience, the whole family, both young and old, genuinely enjoyed meal times. There were always several courses, dessert, beer, wine, or vodka for the adults, free-flowing conversation, banter, joking—in a word, joy.
And it was through this experience of living abroad in a culture that doesn’t fetishize real food but actually and truly enjoys it—partly because they don’t really have much of a choice–that I learned to embrace whole foods. I’ve carried with me this Russian gusto for real food and meaningful conversation, and it’s truly changed my life.”
About the Author
Mariana Ashley is a blogger and freelance writer, whose posts offer a college guide and news for prospective students and parents. She also enjoys writing about sustainable living, parenting, personal finance, and more. She welcomes comments via email at email@example.com.