One of the greatest things about travel is that we learn more than we could ever hear about from a friend, study for a test, or read about in a book. We all know the Eiffel Tower, for example, is in Paris. Yet nothing compares to seeing this idyllic, steel monstrosity in person; it absolutely takes your breath away.
What we really learn in our overseas in adventures is about the local culture, as we meet locals, constantly ask for help and directions, and (my favorite part!) eat the local food. We don’t just discover what they eat – we develop a deeper understanding of how food fits into their culture.
In my recent travels to France and Belgium, my sister and I were flabbergasted at Europe’s awesome, healthy attitudes towards food. Since both are developed, first world countries and similar to the U.S., we expected a similar addiction to fast food and drive through and high-fructose corn syrup disasters. What did we find? ONE McDonald’s. Zero drive-thru’s. Not a single Starbucks. Yes, NOT A SINGLE STARBUCKS! (well, except for in the airport!)
We even had trouble just finding take-away coffee. Their attitude was that if we wanted a cup of coffee, we could find the time to sit down and enjoy it. Plus, said coffee only came in teeny-tiny espresso form. That’s a lesson all Americans could utilize: sit down and enjoy your small portion sizes!
Another thing we barely saw was supermarkets. Paris truly lived up to the stereotype; we really did see immaculately-dressed Parisian women riding their bicycles home from the farmers market stocked with vegetables and French baguettes. If we wanted bread, we went to a bakery. If we wanted vegetables, we went to the market. If we wanted medicine, we went to the pharmacy or apothecary, neither of which carried chips, soda and candy like they do here at home. There was no Costco or even a Vons/Safeway. Convenience is out, tradition is in.
Right outside of Brussels, Belgium and even just on the outskirts of Paris loomed untouched green pastures with cows, horses, sheep, and hens wandering through the meadows. Factory farms? Pish-posh. GMO’s? No way! The European Union is declared a GMO-free zone; they refuse to import produce and hormone-pumped meat from the U.S. and other offending countries.
Not only was Europe’s cultural respect for food refreshing, but the food tasted better. I ordered a cheap, tomato and cheese panini off a food cart outside a metro station in Paris. And it was divine. The people were all shapes and sizes, but all healthy shapes and sizes. They walked and biked more than they drove or took the train. Their food supply isn’t filled with chemicals and man-made Frankenstein genes and hormones. Of all of the wonderful experiences to take away from my travels, living a happy, healthy life with a strong respect for food definitely rings in near the top.