We have just recently returned from a 2 month trip to the US. This was our first trip back to the US since leaving to move to Morocco two years ago. It was an amazing trip and a great adventure, but it brought a lot of things into perspective for me as well. In the next few weeks, I will be posting a series of posts about things I learned or thought about during the trip, as well as some cool pictures from the journey.
Today, I am going to talk about food. When we left for the US, we were so excited to be getting a taste of the foods we have been missing for the past two years – tortillas, thick crust pizza, sour cream and onion chips, berries, cottage cheese etc. While in the US, we definitely took part in lots of these great luxuries and enjoyed them. We ate tacos A LOT, and splurged on all of our favorite junk food. However, we found that there were an equal amount of foods from Morocco that we missed while we were in the US – fresh baked bread and, fresh vegetables and fruits with flavor being two of the key things we missed. This highlighted, for me, the differences between foods in the US and Morocco. In the US, the food is often based around what smells good, looks good and stays good forever (I completely forgot how many preservatives can be in food). In Morocco, the food is based around what tastes good, and is good for you. Now this is not to say that there is no junk food in Morocco – I can attest that there is plenty! However, the overall prevalence of it is less – with the distinct distinction being French Fries, which can be found EVERYWHERE!
The other key difference in food between the US and Morocco is cost. I know that the cost of living is higher in the US, but the cost of food is SO much higher in the US. In the US, I spent approximately 35% of my monthly budget on food. In Morocco, I spend approximately 19% of my monthly budget on food. This is a HUGE difference. To illustrate my point, here is what we picked up today at the souk:
This lot of fruit, vegetables, pasta, cookies and rice cost us 130DH, which is $15.59. It will last me for the entire week. We will eat meals off of it, but also snacks, and make smoothies each day with the fruit. All of the food was grown by local farmers, who send their food to Bouskoura – near Casablanca, on Tuesdays. Each town in this area has a day when this “Farmer’s Souk” comes to the area and provides fresh food and other goods for those who don’t have transportation into the city and the larger souks that lie there.
If I were to buy this same amount of food in the US, it would cost about 3 times the amount, especially because the majority of it is fruits and vegetables, which we found to be the most expensive items to buy in the US. In a country where obesity is an issue, the US has cheap grains, processed foods and other junk, but expensive fruits, vegetables and quality meat (the kind that doesn’t eat corn and antibiotics as their main meal). Ask for your fruits and vegetables not to be covered in pesticides (you know – grown organically) and you up your price even more. If you are on a budget in the US – and we completely were traveling on a budget – you end up buying cheaper, less quality foods, so that you can buy enough to keep your family full.
Now, let’s talk about packaging. I forgot how many items come pre-packaged for individual servings, something that is rare here in Morocco – unless you’re buying cookies. In one supermarket, I found applesauce in a jar, applesauce in a cup and applesauce that could be squeezed out of little tubes. I know that applesauce in a cup can be convenient, but how hard is it really, to pour it into a small bowl? At least with applesauce in a cup, you can re-use the cup later for snacks or arts and crafts, or you can recycle it. With applesauce in a tube, what are you doing with that extra packaging, except throwing it away? I know they’re charging you for it, because it’s definitely more expensive that the one large jar of applesauce. I was glad to see how many recycling programs there were in the US, especially out west, but the idea of pre-packaging everything seems to defeat the purpose.
I know that the Moroccan food system is not perfect. In fact, many Moroccans are trying to mimic the US food system, which has brought the advent of things like individual serving cookies and snacks. I just find it easier to buy the food I enjoy eating, in packaging that makes me more comfortable, at a price I can afford. And after a trip to the US, I will still crave sour cream and tortillas, but I know that I am content to have those as luxuries when we travel, so that we can live on a steady diet of affordable fruits and vegetables.