Sunday, May 16, 2010


Food-wise, I’m perhaps not easy to travel with. You have to feed me often, and I will eat just about anything. Doesn’t sound too bad? Um, the other side is that I reject all fast food, all global franchises, even when it’s convenient, and I’m not quiet about my scorn for Big Macs, Whoppers, etc, ad nauseum so to speak. (Want some reference points? Try George Ritzer , The McDonaldization of Society; Fast Food Nation; the film Food, Inc.; the film/book, No Impact Man—well, and lots more. Oh, of course, Super Size Me ).

When I got my Ph.D. sometime last century, I treated myself to a trip to Peru, tagging along with a university biology class. Two nice, sweaty weeks in the rainforest, mosquito netting, no AC, don’t drink the tapwater, close your mouth in the shower, tree trunks lined with enormous thorns, and a forest that glowed in the dark from some luminous fungus. At one eco-station, they would hang bunches of bananas from the rafters, always available. Meals were in a thatched hall. The people there were proud to provide chicken almost every day (an extreme luxury), several kinds of beans, palm hearts, fruits I couldn’t identify, and one evening fried up the piranhas that we had caught from our boat in the afternoon. Granted, the night we came in and there was a 30 foot boa drooping down through the thatch in the hall was a bit disconcerting, but we obeyed our hosts and didn’t stand underneath it. All good. Sadly, half the students on the trip rejected the local food out of hand; 3 young women refused to eat anything there and had to subsist on whatever granola bars and peanut butter crackers the rest of us could scrounge from our packs.

On our study tour to Greece a few years ago, I complained about the set dinners at our hotels, which every night included French fries. I don’t eat French fries here—fast death by cholesterol—and I was sure there was more interesting food hidden somewhere in Greece. Out one night with our tour guide, at a sidewalk cafe, we tried various octopus and squid, and Suzy encouraged me to jump right in and bite off the head of the small fish set in front of me. I did. Crunchy fish head and brain wasn’t a taste I acquired, but not a bad experience. The ouzo chaser helped, and everyone enjoyed watching me make faces. (But I still complain bitterly about that tour company’s idea of how to feed us. Passports, I think.)

In Egypt, a different tour company took what I thought was a much better strategy—we had fairly authentic local food, though upscale from what most of the starving local folks could have afforded. (There had been food riots in Cairo only the month before, when government bread rations had run low.) On the Nile cruise, lots of local fish, a dozen types of bread every meal, beef, vegetables, soup, desserts, plenty of other choices. In Cairo, one breakfast included an amazing selection. I especially liked the various kinds of breakfast beans, and loved the brown, syrupy bean-paste and noodles. Great stuff, though after I got my niece to try some, she swore I was trying to poison her.

The group as a whole that trip got more and more depressed at all the interesting new tastes we got to experience, so much so that by Alexandria, I asked our tour guide to please provide them with some American food. The next day at lunch, the tour bus pulled up to a T.G.I. Fridays, met with applause, tears, delight. Sigh. Even though I had asked for it, I chose to stay outside on the steps in the sun, and nibbled a biscuit and some dried fruit. I publically announced I hadn’t come all the way to Egypt to eat a hamburger. But the group was in a great mood the rest of the day, no doubt induced by excess fat and sugar.

In Spain? I promised Patti that the food in Spain would be much more appealing than in Egypt. What will EF Tours provide for us? We will no doubt have quite a few set meals, given the logistics of a large group on a schedule. Will it be a steady stream of French fries and complaints from me? Strange concoctions none of us can identify? Something else? In any case, how we experience the food in Spain will tell us not only about the Spanish, but a great deal about ourselves.
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3 Responses
  1. Rambling Says:

    I'm with you. I still remember the one restaurant in Egypt that fed us the delicious fish with onions and peppers from clay cooking dishes. So many people wouldn't eat it and they missed out! As for the TGI Friday's... I do have a great photo of globalization at it's best/worst: A photo from the restaurant on the opposite side of the Nile from a Hitachi building and a mosque. I can't wait to see what Spain has in store for us.

  2. Zac Says:

    Mabye someone would like to count how many McDonalds we see. But who knows, maybe KFC is winning there.

  3. Unknown Says:
    This comment has been removed by the author.

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