Hiya all,

We’re en route to Berkeley, California, where we’ll spend the next two weeks – mostly working, but also meeting old and new friends. We’re very happy about the trip, but also somewhat concerned – my health still is far from perfect and the last thing I need is the jetlag.

And the food.

Say what you may about Israeli politics, behavior, whatever – it wins the food competition with America, hands down. When I moved to Berkeley in 2001, I could hardly bring myself to shop for anything that wasn’t vegetables or fruit – everything seemed processed, fatty, and strange. Getting used to foreign food is always a challenge, but apparently American food is particularly problematic. Many Israelis who have lived abroad (my sample includes lots of grad school students, who also sit and study a lot and therefore have somewhat sedentary lives) find that they gain a lot of weight in America.

Is it possible to live and eat in America without feeling bad and gaining a lot of weight? I maintain it is – at least in California. If you stick to the following principles.

1) Go slow at first. It’s hard enough to adjust to a new place, whether you’re visiting or staying to live there. Get a few familiar foods, just so your stomach doesn’t get as homesick as the rest of you. Being so food-obsessed, I remember how I almost cried with joy when I bought a bag of small, deep green “mediterranean” cucumbers at the overpriced yuppie store. Not all of us can afford shopping at places like that on a regular basis, but sometimes it’s important.

2) At the same time, pay attention to the quality of stuff. What is generally good in one place, doesn’t necessarily have a good equivalent elsewhere. For example, in my second year in America I finally realized that the low fat cheese market was a disappointment in comparison to the stuff in Israel, and shifted to tofu, which was much better. On the other hand, good luck finding a decent veggie burrito in Tel Aviv (and if you have found one, please, let us all know!).

3) Do not eat weird processed fake foods (and I don’t mean these, though they certainly are entertaining). The nature of a globalized, large scale capitalist food market is that it offers a load of new, pre-packaged products for our consumption. There is no need to eat stuff that has an unappetizing, artificial list of ingredients.

4) Exit the supermarket and head to the nearest farmers’ market. The markets have much better and fresher – and often cheaper – produce.

5) Do not be afraid of new vegetables. Before coming to America, I didn’t know of mustard greens, bitter melon, jicama, bok choy, and other wonderful things. In my first year in California, I played a game that you may find fun: Vegetable of the Week. Each week I bought a vegetable I didn’t know, and tried to cook it in various ways. My diet got richer, and my palate was certainly happier!

6) Make use of the advantages of immigration countries! In America, try Asian and Mexican restaurants – it’s best to avoid the sanitized chain versions, and go for the real thing.

7) And, finally, find a way in which, when you’re sad or lonely or homesick, you can have and enjoy an old favorite… a small bag of Bamba does wonders for Israeli kids and kids-at-heart, anywhere in the world…

Safe travels!

(images for this post from: www.shcp.edu/ftp/American%20Food-David%20Foro and www.israelimages.com/medium/17126.jpg)

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  1. Oooh, I missed your bloggy comeback – nice “seeing” you and I had fun catching up on your veggiedoings.

    Back on topic, though: it is quite possible to eat well in the U.S. – it just is easier not to. Add to that the lesser physical motion (recently spotted in Der Spiegel: the aveage American walks 2000 steps a day; the average European something like 8-12,000 steps. The annual in difference calorie output is staggering) and you get a plumper, less healthy population.

    I add to your excellent advice a game I play: cook only from scratch, with veggies going for less than $1.50/pound. You may need to raise the bar for organic produce – but not by much. It keeps things closer to local and closer to in-season.

    Also: a great resource for ingredient shopping is the immigrant shops – the Asian groceries, the Middle Eastern ones. You still need to read ingredient lists, but there are sometimes fascinating finds there.

    Have some safe and easy travels!

  2. Hey! Good to see ya, Shunra! Missed you, too!

    Yes, the “let’s buy cheaper vegetables because that means they’re in season” approach makes a lot of sense. I used to do this as a grad student, because I didn’t have any money, but have continued to do so ever since. And, yes, I adore the immigrant shops – and the people who sell the food can always suggest good recipes and ideas on how to use the ingredients!

  3. I live in Berkeley and often play “vegetable of the week.” I think if you just buy whole vegies, fruits and grains then the US (at least CA) can be a paradise. But it’s far too easy to get lazy and just buy processed junk. I hardly buy any processed foods, I cook all from scratch, and I eat very well – and very cheaply – here.

    I shop mainly in Oakland Chinatown, as well as Berkeley Bowl. Both places for great fresh foods and huge amounts of vegie choice.

  4. Hi, Diane! Welcome!

    Yes, there are plenty of places to shop for excellent organic and local produce in Berkeley. My favorite spot used to be the Monterey Market, and I also visited weekly Farmer’s Markets.

    The problem with coming for just two weeks somewhere is that you can’t shop and cook from scratch like you do in a place you live. But one does find excellent alternatives, such as Cha-Ya and Cafe Gratitude.

    We’re back home now; expect more reports of veggie cookery soon!

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