Find Your Food, Find Yourself
It wasn’t until long after I moved away from home that I found myself among tomatoes and jalepeños, avocados and cilantro. Physically found myself there, sure, but also found myself, you know, the way parents, teachers, friends, and therapists always want us to. Of course I’d thought I’d already done this in high school, then in college, at work and at yoga, out at city bars. But in fact it was in my mid 20s, in grocery store aisles around the world, where this knowing, this finding, seriously happened.
In early 2011, I left my snow-covered city of Boston, left my friends and family as they shoveled their way out of the most recent storm, and planted myself on the sunny streets of Palermo Viejo, the trendiest neighborhood in the marvelously unique city of Buenos Aires, Argentina. Although I’d traveled before, this was my first truly solo trip. As soon as I arrived I felt exhilarated and alone. I quickly attempted to create a schedule, started teaching yoga once a day, and connected with the handful of people I knew in the city. But even on days I thought I’d filled, I was still left with huge gaps of free time. And so I wandered.
First, I wandered through massive grocery stores inside the city malls, noticing the dirty, misshapen produce, real and organic, unlike the shiny, symmetrical produce I was used to seeing in the States. I walked up and down aisles, silently rehearsing Spanish vocabulary as I read labels of familiar items. Within a week or two, I had thoroughly explored my temporary neighborhood, found the local grocers, the best of the street stands, and had taken full advantage of the weekly farmers’ market.
I spent hours loading my shopping cart with fruits and vegetables; both those I’d always loved and those I’d only recently come to know. The apples in Argentina, I decided, couldn’t compete with those from New England trees. The sweet potatoes however, were unique, amazing, and when evenly laid on a baking sheet could be transformed into the most crispy, delicious sweet potato fries. Plums, I realized, were underappreciated in the States, and if perfectly ripe, when blended with peaches and bananas, produced a smoothie that splashed with color. During each of these seemingly insignificant discoveries, I felt calmness, the pressure to fill every moment dissolving.
Soon grocery shopping was no longer an item to be checked off my list, but rather the time of day I felt most alive, most myself. I realized for years it had been that way, especially during my travels; I had just never taken the time to notice. So I started filling my days with food; shopping for it, watching shows about it, taking classes on how to cook it and listening to those who loved to share it. While many of my friends back home were learning to compete, to network, to fight for their success, I was learning to truly enjoy time, even when it seemed endlessly empty, learning to be comfortable in quiet moments, and learning that my interactions with food were real, significant, and defined me.
Since returning home and settling back into my former life, my relationship with food has forever changed. Knowing where my food comes from, touching it and smelling it, cooking it the ways I’ve come to prefer; it all matters now, and brings me joy. So here’s my bit of advice, to young city girls and boys, to both the newcomers, wide-eyed and wandering, and to the city slickers, industrious and exhausted: take a moment to go grocery shopping, preferably alone. Take an hour and then a full afternoon. Find your favorite grocery store, your favorite farmers market, find food you love to feed yourself. Who knows, along the way you might just start to feel a little bit more like you.
THE WRITER: Jody Grimm is the founder of Jo Jo’s Raw Kitchen, a raw chocolate delivery service and raw food resource in the Boston area.
What city has the best food shopping in your opinion? Tell us in the comments!
Chris Regan and Ashley Mayne produce a wide array of delicious greens for the Hudson Valley.
With his new book, Forrest Pritchard tells the stories of 18 farms from all across America.
Forrest Pritchard and Smith Meadows are prime examples of sustainable family farming.
Jonathan Waxman shares his food philosophy with Slow Films.
A group of star chefs play with fire for a good cause.