Some of the most interesting conversations we had with Jude, our Saudi Arabian intern, were on the subjects of food. As I’ve mentioned before, she showed us some great new ways to use our fresh fruits and veggies and we really enjoyed the Middle Eastern dishes she made for us.
From Jude we learned that in Saudi Arabia food still matters. It is not something you get wrapped in paper and eat in your car. The people buy their produce from the farmer’s markets and only go to grocery stores for things that can’t be found fresh and locally grown.
Some of the antectodes she shared with us were actually funny, in a sad kind of way. Her first experience in an American grocery store would be great material for a stand-up comedian, even while it raises very serious issues about how our culture has disconnected from food. She told us about picking up a peach and saying to herself “What is this thing?” It was much larger than any peach she had ever seen, was hard as a rock and had no smell. She told us how the peaches she was used to were smaller, were soft to the touch and were so fragrant you could smell them in the next room. We laughed and told her that’s true of real peaches everywhere. She refused to buy the giant hard peach with no smell.
Of course her experience was repeated with other produce. She told us about eating tomatoes and watermelon from an American grocery store and feeling like she was eating cardboard. She told us about calling her father and telling him that the food in America is terrible.
When her father came to visit he wanted to barbecue so they went to the store to get some chicken. He was astonished at what he saw. He picked up one of the chickens and asked aloud, “Is this a turkey?” He could not believe that the giant mutant birds we pass off as chickens really were. The chicken looked so weird to him that he refused to eat it.
Jude was overjoyed to discover how good the food from our gardens tastes. She loves to cook but the food in this country was so bad she had quit. She was delighted to start cooking again and we were happy beneficiaries of that decision.
Sadly, the American disconnection with food is spreading. Jude told us that young Saudis (who love to imitate Americans and American culture) go to the KFC and McDonalds in Saudi Arabia. They buy processed foods from grocery stores. They are losing the ability to distinguish good food from crap. That is a shame.
When Jude got back to Fairfax she searched out the farmer’s markets. She is planning to join a CSA. She is excited about getting good food again. She asked us if we could send her a watermelon.
Those things make us feel good.