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embracing the tropics

27 June 2012
tags: ,

last weekend, dan and i visited a good friend in a city three hours north of us. while there, we made several trips to supermarkets to buy canned tuna, extra-virgin olive oil, real butter, wheat rolls, and mozzarella cheese. we even found red wine vinegar! in moments like this, i am an opportunistic shopper. butter is $7 a pound? who cares! it’s here! because these things aren’t available in our small town, i’m like the proverbial kid in a candy store.

take a trip with me to the local market, however, and you’ll see me breeze past all kinds of greens, tropical fruits, tubers & “pulses” (i only recently learned this word and now feel proud to have used it in a sentence – it means “edible seeds” like beans, peas, and lentils). i don’t run around wildly grabbing at these foods, even though they are nutritious and (most likely) delicious. they are also (most likely) locally grown, abundant, and inexpensive. but because they are unfamiliar, i don’t purchase or prepare them!

i recently read Real Food: what to eat and why by Nina Planck. it was an incredibly eye-opening and thought-provoking book, and i’m very glad i read it. what i gathered to be the overall message of the book was this: eat wholesome, traditional foods that humans have been eating for thousands of years, and do not eat newly-invented industrial foods that have been around for less than a hundred years. this, to me, is unarguably logical. i’m in.

however, as i’m living here in rural southeast asia, i don’t have a plethora of usda certified organic options to choose from. i can’t ‘google’ the nearest dairy farm and make sure the cows are certifiably healthy. in fact, people here don’t even milk cows! (they milk water buffalo instead – more on that another day)

so, Real Food was doubly thought-provoking for me, because it has forced me to dig deeper into local culture & traditions in a new way. as i ponder the concept of local, traditional foods, i must ask:

+ what are the foods traditionally eaten by people on this island?
+ what foods are locally grown/raised?
+ how are animals raised? how are diseases prevented/controlled?
+ how are crops grown? how are pests dealt with?
+ what kinds of whole grains, raw milk, fresh fruit & vegetables, fresh fish, pastured meat/eggs, healthy fats, and natural sweeteners are available here?

i’m just setting out on this journey, and i suspect there will be a lot of trial-and-error along the way (again with the water buffalo milk…) but as i seek and find answers to these questions, i am increasingly able to plan and prepare healthy meals for my husband and me to enjoy, and it’s a fun challenge to use local ingredients rather than relying solely on familiar (a.k.a. imported) foods. after all, should wheat and olive oil really be my go-to foods when rice and coconuts are practically growing in my backyard?

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