Save Yourselves!

I know, I know – nobody particularly enjoys a complainer. And at this moment, being on vacation, what do I have to complain about, right? In fact, it is being – and eating! – here in Turkey that reminds me rather sharply of precisely what I have to complain about in terms of my life back in the United States.

Enjoying dessert with my daughter after a meal of köfte, pita bread, and stewed tomatoes and peppers along the marina of Çeşme.

Bear with me.

My diet has changed quite a lot over the years, an experience I imagine many of you share. Growing up in suburban America, food was quite simple. My mother was too distant from her Scottish heritage to know much of anything other than simple American foods, fried and stewed, supplemented by a growing number of frozen meals you could pop in the microwave and have done with. I should at least be grateful that this disconnect actually saved me from having to endure haggis and black pudding for much of my life. However, it did leave me with a taste for little else besides what her limited skills could provide from her upbringing in Arkansas: fried okra (which I still love), corn bread, baked beans, and an occasional steak, which was when my father stepped in to help out with the grill.

Moving to San Francisco was one of the smartest decisions I ever made. A welcomed escape from the dullness of Salinas, California. And an incredibly stimulating introduction to cuisines of the world. To pay the bills while in college, I took a job cooking in one of S.F.’s thousands of restaurants and treated myself to nibbles of the dishes I was preparing there, including rack of lamb with a garlic spinach sauce, and curry cream shrimp and scallops over pasta, and a chocolate pecan pie with Devonshire cream that was to bloody well die for!

Not much complaining yet, right? Okay, here we go.

Burger King stands testament to a declining cuisine at the entrance to İstiklal Street in İstanbul.

When I left the U.S. to live overseas, I was so very ready to experiment and explore. For five years I studiously avoided the growing number of McDonalds and Wendy’s and Subways popping up everywhere and went only – and I mean only! – to small family-owned restaurants and lokantas. And I was in culinary heaven! Always fresh breads from local bakeries, and fresh yogurt spooned out of tins, and fruits that tasted like fruits, and vegetables that you could identify for what they were from nothing but a quick smell – while your eyes were closed.

Have you tried smelling vegetables in U.S. stores? Not only lacking in true flavor, but bereft even of the appropriate scent. Stand in the produce aisle of Wal-Mart or Smiths or any major chain and take a whiff. You might as well be standing in the stationary aisle.

Living back in the United States, I quickly began to suffer. Gained weight quickly, esophagus burning, becoming addicted to Tums and chewable Pepto, and thinking nothing of it – that this must be what life and aging are supposed to be like. When I became a Crohn’s Disease patient, I was forced to re-evaluate many things about how I was living.

And eating.

My days in the U.S. now include delicious salads and juicy fruits and frequent omelets so long as they include lots of peppers and tomatoes lightly sautéed in olive oil.

One of my favorite salads of tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, cheese, walnuts, and raspberries.

As for life here in Turkey: indulging in fruits and vegetables and eggs and milk from local farms. And loving it!

But since arriving, I’ve been in the stores, picking up essentials and even grabbing some things one can easily find in the U.S., mainly to please my eight-year-old daughter. Who insists! And so here’s the thing that leaves me frustrated and bewildered: even packaged and junk foods here taste different. I’m tempted to say … better! Nesquik chocolate mix actually tastes like chocolate, while Nesquik in the U.S. tastes like flavored sugar. Cheetos here tastes like cheese, while cheetos in the U.S. tastes like flavored salt. Salça (tomato paste) here tastes like tomatoes, while tomato paste in the U.S. tastes like flavored chemicals.

And we let it happen.

We allow ourselves to fall into these traps of processed foods so harshly flavored with additives and sweeteners and salt that we become addicted to it all. Expecting it with every meal. Expecting to find lumps of sugar and shakers of salt on the table … just in case there’s not enough in the dishes we eat. Which are quite likely filled already with more sugar and salt than we could possibly need. And yet we still add more.

We allow this to happen, you know.

The food industry encourages it all, stuffing their pockets while we stuff our mouths with their crap. And the government defends the food industry in its ongoing efforts to keep us in a perpetual state of obesity and steady decay. Which justifies the immense wealth pouring into the drug industry to preserve us (not cure us) from the crimes of the food industry, while the ME industry gleefully looks the other way, refusing to see the truth of what we are doing to ourselves and our children. Preferring instead to stare at our iPads and iPods and Xboxes and wii’s, giving our tap-texting fingers more exercise than they need while the rest of our bodies receive none, continuing to expand and fold over and over into eventual over-stimulated over-medicated oblivion.

In the face of all of which, as I eagerly plan out my eventual and permanent return to the Old World of my ancestors, finding security and harmony with my beloved in a small village in Europe, I have to say this one last thing on this subject to you all, my fellow poets and bloggers, after which I will go back to writing poetry: save yourselves, my friends. Because no one else will.

13 thoughts on “Save Yourselves!

  1. I like how you end this…I have to agree, I avoid junk food as much as possible but lately my little girls have discovered the joys of French Fries…and juice. I refused to give them fir the longest time. I am ashamed to say now they have fries every Wednesday…juice almost everyday. We have to take responsibility for pur own foods cos no one else would especially for health’s sakes.
    Yea I have always preferred food outside of the US, even the mcdonald’s in Europe feels fresher lol. Have fun on your vacay….Istanbul, Turkey is one of my top 3 locations to visit. Hopefully soon. Great post, thanks for sharing.

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    • My pleasure, Boomie. I’m glad it rang quite a bell with you. I have a feeling many people can actually sympathize with your perspective and mine.

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  2. George–Bravo and reblogging! I am a firm believer in eating fresh, and in season (even work at an organic farm one day a week to get the freshest for my family and to supplement my garden). Fresh and as little processed as possible is definitely the way to go!

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    • Now that is definitely the way to go, Susan! Even working at an organic farm? Access to all those yummy foods? And an insight into how to make farming like that work? Fantastic!

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  3. 100% agree. Can’t remember that last time McDonald’s Burger King Wendy’s or any of the other fast food chain’s foods past my lips. Even better, can’t remember the last time I wanted it to. And again, absolutely correct on the produce sections of most super markets here. The opening of farmer’s market season is a highlight for me.

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    • I know what you mean, Rhonda. I remember a time long ago when just the smells of the fast food joints would still make my mouth water. Now … they fill me with a sense of greasy foreboding. But the smell of fresh tomatoes, peppers, spinach, grapes (I have several vines in my garden) — those I cannot do without.

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      • Exactly George. I cannot do without them either. Thank goodness for indoor herb gardens is all I can add, otherwise the winter months would be hard to take.
        Enjoy the rest of your holiday…sounds wonderful.

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  4. I agree 100%. The big food companies here in the US have ruined this countries food supply and our health. My girls spent 2 weeks in the UK and they said the same thing regarding how much better everything there was. From juice to chocolate to dove soap.

    Good Post!

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    • Thank you, Lori. However long I have lived, it never ceases to amaze me how readily we accept the notion of wealth and business as the overriding principle for managing our lives. I am a teacher, and I became a teacher on the principle that education matters, and yet I have encountered much more off than education is a business. Food is a business. Health care is a business. Students sometimes look askance at me when I question such an approach to life. Perhaps they think more realistically than I do. But I prefer to aspire to more. I prefer to believe that there is indeed more.

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  5. I have a goal to eat at least one fresh picked fruit or vegetable from my garden every day from May until November. So far, so good! But sadly, last year in Italy and France, I was often dismayed by the tasteless “fresh” tomatoes and fruits that were served in restaurants. The blight of tasteless, industrially-grown food is spreading…

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