As I write this, I’m staring out the window of a cafe on a cobblestone plaza in Northern Argentina. Directly in front of me is a white stone building with a terra cotta tiled roof, grand archways, and a statue of an austere looking fellow named Guemes.
I’m sipping on a glass of agua con gas (carbonated mineral water), a plate of Argentine pastries to my left, which were brought to me “on the house” for reasons I couldn’t understand. This country seems determined to send me away in a size more “grande” than the one in which I arrived.
Another round of cafe con leche (milk coffee) is on the way to boost my brain function from the lack of sleep due to attending a Carnival parade until 2 am last night.
Who am I and what in the world am I doing here?
It’s an honor for me to join the Simple Bites team. I’m a long time food, health and homemaking blogger over at Keeper of the Home, as well as a Simple Bites reader since its inception.
For the past three years I’ve been sharing my love for green and natural living on Simple Homemade, but a change of plans and scenery this winter caused me to shift gears.
You see, on January 21st our family embarked on a rather unusual and ambitious journey. Together with our four young children (ages 8, 5, 3 and just turning 1), my husband and I are traveling around the world for an entire year!
First on our itinerary is a 3 month stop in South America, which includes time in several parts of Argentina as well as Uruguay. Following our time here, we’ll travel around Europe for 8 weeks this spring, then settle in southern Spain for the summer. Then it’s off to Turkey for a month, then hopefully Israel, Africa, Indonesia, China and Hong Kong, Australia and who knows where else!
Thinking about “food culture”
I hope to share more details about local foods in the places that we visit, recipes I learn, shopping the markets for seasonal foods, how to eat well while traveling, and finding nutritious, whole foods no matter where you are.
What has really sparked my attention so far, though, has simply been the unique food culture that we’ve experienced here in South America. While it can be easy to find my own culture’s way of doing things preferential, I’ve been intrigued as I contemplate the different ways that people eat and drink.
Such a basic necessity of life, but such variety in how it can be done!
Food phenomena that I’ve noticed in our first few weeks here:
- Breakfast as an afterthought. It usually consists of a hot drink like coffee or mate with milk, and perhaps a croissant, a biscuit or cookie.
- Lunch as the primary meal of the day, and not until 2 pm. In most of South America, particularly wherever the afternoon siesta is observed, this mid-day meal is the largest, longest and most important.
- Late dinners, always after 8pm and frequently not beginning until 10pm. In the home, this meal is lighter and more modest, but in restaurants it is a lengthy, lively and waist-expanding experience.
- The absence of a to-go culture. In both the USA and Canada, we drink our coffee in take-away cups or mugs and pick up fast food through the drive-thru. Here, I need to sit down and sip on a cup in a cafe. Even convenient foods like hand-held empanadas are frequently eaten at the shop where they were purchased.
- Sugar, sugar, everywhere. It’s a hundred times easier to find a coca-cola than it is a bottle of water. Fruit juices have additional sugar or high-fructose corn syrup added. Croissants are usually sweet, even when used to make a sandwich. Dulce de leche, their delicious milk caramel sauce, is added to everything, even spread on toast!
- Many meals and snacks have a high emphasis on refined grains, dairy and meat, with vegetables (and fruit, to a lesser degree) making an appearance usually only in the main meal of the day.
I’ll admit, I’m not loving some aspects of South American food culture. A hearty breakfast is a must for me, I’m ravenous long before 8pm, the sugar consumption is over the top, the lack of fresh produce is difficult, and I really miss carrying a mug of coffee or tea around with me.
On the other hand, I’m drawn to some of their customs. Eating the largest meal of the day in the afternoon, instead of before bed, seems both wise and possibly more relaxing. Their extravagant late-evening dinners or Sunday afternoon barbeques are important social times, when friends and family linger and connect with one another.
These types of details make up the culture of how people are both nourished by food, as well as how they enjoy it and wrap their society and relationships around it. We don’t tend to give this much thought in our day-to-day lives, but food culture is such a part of who we are and how we relate to people!
My first attempt at grocery shopping in Buenos Aires, doing my best to find foods that suit our whole foods style of eating.
Considering the food culture in our own homes
It got me thinking, if someone were to visit my town or stay in my home, what type of food culture would they observe?
I honestly have no idea how they would react to the way that we eat, but I do find myself thoughtfully considering questions like these:
- How often do we eat food aimlessly or without slowing down enough to appreciate it?
- Are we making it a priority to use mealtimes as an opportunity to shares our lives and connect with one another?
- Could I make certain meals less time consuming in their preparation, in order to give more time and energy to others?
- What do I model for my family about a healthful and balanced approach to food and meals?
- How can I learn from both the positives and the negatives that I see in other cultures?
Aimee has written about her experiences and why it is so important to create a healthy family food culture. Traveling and exploring in other parts of the world is making me think harder about the food culture that I’m for creating for my own family.
My encouragement to you, as well as to myself? Regardless of how we do things in our individual families, let’s purpose to be intentional about not only what we eat, but how, when and why we eat it as well.
How would you describe the food culture in your own home?