After work, she picks up her daughter from the daycare. There’s never a dinner plan. If one comes together, it’s usually closer to nine. It’s never a good idea to grocery shop when hungry; too expensive. So the mother and daughter always beeline for the deli counter upon entering. The order rarely varies: thinly shaved roasted turkey and some slices of muenster cheese. They snack through the store on these provisions. This always elicits double-takes from other shoppers, as if the two are solely there to graze for free. When they make it to the checkout counter with almost empty baggies, clerks always smile, knowing the cost marked on the deli baggies is more than the weightless ones handed over. The mother confesses to needing a snack just to make it home to cook anything. They’re always honest about this routine. The child grows up thinking it’s normal to eat while you shop.
In farmer’s markets, sampling is part of trying to sell. Most food shops in European cities display or willingly provide samples of their wares to show pride in their specialty -whether cheeses; breads; cured meats…
His marble business brought him to Italy by way of England. Always a restaurant snob, the cuisine of Italy suited his evolved refinement. But he was American bread, and despite his sophistication and appreciation for the finer things in life: wine, cigars, fine dining, women…he had a secret occasional craving he couldn’t get in Italy: Velveeta cheese. It represented his childhood. It was nostalgia; it had a smell, a taste and a melted consistency he couldn’t find or replicate from any cheese market. When one of his siblings was planning to visit, he negotiated a trade. Could they come with as many boxes as they could afford in additional weight? He would ship them an entire wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano back to the states for the family to divvy up. Sounds ridiculous on the face of it: a 16oz box of Velveeta is maybe $7, but a wheel of specialty Parm is way over a grand! He didn’t care. It was what he wanted. The value on nostalgia had no price.
Our palate expands as our proximity to other culture’s foods expands. Most in the states never leave the country so they only try different ingredients by proxy. Even after years of broadening horizons, usually what we really love is closer to home; or the memory of home. We take our taste wherever we go.
Their apartment is only two blocks behind the grocery store. When the weather is fine, they walk to grab ingredients for that evening’s dinner. The main reason is around cash flow. Living paycheck to paycheck. And car problems; is it running or not? But this habit they’ve adopted is parallel to millions in almost every country outside of the United States. The daily walks for daily provisions are seen as inefficient by those in the West. One of their favorite ‘meals’ is an assortment of fruits and vegetables, sliced up to dip into yogurt. A loaf of French bread and a chunk of good cheese round out the meal. Neither of them knows this is rien de spécial, almost de rigueur in France.
I dated a guy many years ago who hated the thought of European travel. I know it had more to do with not wanting to leave daily routines and comfort zones, than the cost or exhaustion inflicted by traveling. His argument was that every country could be toured through myriad channels on his extra-large, crystal-clear television: from the Discovery Channel to National Geographic to Rick Steve’s worldly tours. And he did access them, and these did suffice for him. We are many years out from those days, and even more is accessible, down to the tiniest niche of interest via Youtube videos or live-tour guides on Instagram stories. Anyone can make the excuse not to travel now.
One cannot substitute standing on historical land with your own two feet; breathing in the street food smells of that city; hearing the dialect in the background as you walk around seeing architecture drastically different from the concrete jungle you flew away from.
A small child doesn’t know what the world has to offer. As adults, we know so much it hinders action.