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our tropical real food journey, part 2

12 July 2012

in yesterday’s post about our real food journey here in southeast asia, i shared that my husband and i face unique challenges to eating healthy foods, but we’re also poised to discover some really great traditional foods and methods of preparing them. today i’ll share more about where we see ourselves headed — i hope to see us pursue a balanced diet that includes all needed nutrients for healthy bodies & minds. below is my list of overall desired outcomes and a few specifics regarding our current advantages & challenges.

+ lots of organic local veggies (& fruits) every day
     i shop for produce at the local open-air market. this sounds wonderfully exotic, and it can be an exciting adventure to wander around and look at all the choices, but just because the market is local doesn’t mean the produce is. it’s virtually all imported from nearby islands, so finding truly “local” produce is rarely an option. it also means the sellers aren’t the growers, so they don’t know how the crops were raised. good local options are greens, bananas, tubers, & probably a host of yet-undiscovered options that will require experimentation.

+ grass-fed beef & pastured poultry
     everywhere we go, we pass cows & water buffalo roaming the fields chomping on grass. most people don’t feed their livestock any grain because there’s plenty of grass to go around. also, many water buffalo have lived productive lives pulling plows before they’re used for meat. as for chickens, there are two classes: factory farmed chickens from other islands and “community chickens” (the chickens who wander around my neighborhood beating up the puppies, aka “pastured”). my hope is to find someone selling “community chickens” for a good price and to become a regular customer. unfortunately they’re more expensive than the farmed chickens but have very little meat by comparison. also in this category is bone broth: i plan to make and use more homemade broth, including broth from chicken feet, which are cheap and widely available.

a farmer and his cattle hanging out in the rice fields

+ fresh eggs from pastured chickens
     i recently made the switch from large brown eggs (again brought from the factory farms on other islands) to buying smaller white-colored eggs from “community chickens.” they’re more expensive at $.22 per egg instead of $.14, but the nutritional benefits are worth it (now hopefully i can remember where that stand was at the market next time i go)!

+ whole milk from grass-fed cows
     this is a really tricky category. people here own cows but don’t milk them. they do milk their water buffalo, but the milk is rarely consumed raw (asians aren’t exactly known for their dairy consumption). oh, not to mention that raw water buffalo milk is almost $15.00 per gallon! but, our only other options are UHT milk (which often has skim milk powder, synthetic vitamins, and/or stabilizers added), sweetened condensed milk, or powdered milk. so i really think it would be a worthwhile investment to our health! i’d like to find a clean, reliable source (which will be quite a challenge!) and then learn to make raw milk yogurt (& cheese?) with it. we’ll have to get used to the taste! fortunately for dan, who hates the “floaties” in unhomogenized milk, buffalo milk is naturally homogenized.

+ natural sweeteners to replace refined sugars
     people here don’t suffer from many of the same chronic diseases that plague americans, but they do face rampant diabetes because they LOVE sugar (and eat white rice 3 times daily). coffee and tea are almost unpalatably sweet (though they don’t use much for baking or cooking). most is refined cane sugar (“sand sugar”), but other options exist. our island is famous for honey, which is collected in the woods by smoking the bees out of their hives. raw sugar cane is pressed to extract the juice (which isn’t great but is less refined than granulated sugar). coconut sugar is also widely available. this is a weak point for me, because i have a serious sweet tooth!

+ regularly eating seafood
     eating seafood here is inevitable – all the traditional foods include some kind of fish, shellfish, or other sea creature. people here really know how to make fish delicious, even for those of us who would rather not see those bug-eyes staring up at us! i recently tried sardines and loved them – who would have thought?! as long as local people are cooking it, i’m in! but when i’m cooking, canned tuna is the best we’ll get (& because we only have one option available for that, i’m not particularly concerned at this point with its origin).

fish prepped and ready for grilling

+ using healthy fats
     there is a vile substance known as “blue band” that parades itself as “margarine” in this part of the world. it is FOUL, and therefore i’ve refused to use it, but i only recently discovered quality unsalted butter in a town 3 hours away. it’s not local and i can’t say it’s from grass-fed cows, though, so i’m trying to not let myself get too attached. i should, however, get very attached to coconut oil, because i recently learned how to make my own! coconuts are abundant and very inexpensive (for $.25 i can make several cups of coconut milk or oil, and then make several cups of coconut flour). we have access to extra-virgin olive oil, but it’s imported from far away in clear bottles and it’s expensive, so i’m going to try to stick to coconut oil.

+ reducing the use of refined grains & using properly prepared whole grains
     as i mentioned above, people here eat large portions of white rice three times daily. whole-grain red rice is available for a slightly higher price, and we can find brown rice on other islands. these are decent substitutes, but we don’t like the taste of them as much (so far). i plan to do more research and experiments with rice & tapioca flours, as well as coconut flour, since whole wheat flour is rare & expensive (and certainly not local). i still have a lot to learn about soaking & sprouting (if anyone has a good book recommendation)!

+ regularly eating fermented/cultured foods
     i’m currently reading “nourishing traditions” by sally fallon & she goes into great depth about the benefits of eating fermented foods. common ones in our area are tempeh (a delicious fermented soybean product), soy sauce (though i need to find a source of traditionally fermented soy sauce, not the msg-laden junk that’s for sale everywhere!), fermented cassava, and even (yikes) fermented horse milk! we tried the horse milk and the cassava – both are tolerable in smoothies but not otherwise. we also enjoy yogurt and i hope to make it with water buffalo milk. i’ll stay on the lookout for more fermented foods around here.

thanks for reading about our real food journey! i’ll continue to post about our successes and failures in these areas, new recipes or food preparation methods we learn, and local traditional foods we discover! how do our challenges compare with yours?

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. fstorms8 permalink
    13 July 2012 02:12

    I loved reading this! It is so awesome that you are able to get so many things truly local. In the summer, I can get local and organic produce at the Farmer’s Market, but, any other time of the year, I have to settle for organic from the grocery store produce. I had to laugh about dan not liking the “floaties” in non-homogenized milk. Kerry is the same way! However, our choices are raw cow’s milk or raw goat’s milk, both of which have the dreaded “floaties” 🙂

  2. syockey2 permalink
    13 July 2012 11:59

    While my family didn’t ever go quite as “real” as you’re trying to go, the challenges of overseas cooking were definitely present in our experience in Lithuania. Peanut butter, a staple food for our family, was one of the hardest things to cope with. The tiny bottles cost like $8! We had all sorts of adventures – like accidentally buying buttermilk because we didn’t know the labels for buttermilk were green, or cooking with a chunk of lard. Good luck on your adventure and don’t worry if sometimes you have to resort to PBJ!

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