As a writer I’ve been very lucky to meet and come in contact with people from all over the world, most with cultures that differ from American culture on a grand scale. Unfortunately, due to my work, it is usually on the Internet. I consider my Internet friends to be my real friends just as much as the next person, but the Internet tends to cut out key elements of a “real” friendship, such as knowing somebody by how they actually look like day-to-day rather than the avatar they choose from themselves.
Fortunately, on the other hand, I have recently met, “in real life,” a very nice man from another country who has given me a fresh perspective on how horrifying the state of my country is, specifically, related to the food we actually eat.
A few weeks ago, I was eating some Red Vines (red licorice for those of you who have never heard of them), mostly because I hadn’t eaten lunch (again) and they were there. Everyone knows I have a sweet tooth that could feed a small army, and there are usually other candies I would choose, but whatever. I didn’t have time to go searching for my favorite. So I sat at my desk in my corporate job munching on Red Vines, and this man, a native of a small village in India, appeared over the top of my cubicle to ask me if I was eating plastic.
“I’m sorry?” I said, covering my mouth.
“That. What you are eating. Is it plastic?”
“Um. No? It’s licorice. Would you like to try some?”
The look on his face was reminiscent of a man who had just been asked if he’d like to bathe in a pile of dog shit.
“No, no, no,” he said repeatedly, shaking his head.
“Are you sure? It’s candy. It’s good!”
“No, no, no,” he said again. “That is not good.”
“Next time,” I said, and he backed away slowly like I had threatened to kill him. It turns out, I kind of had.
Over the last few weeks, we have developed a friendship, mostly because of my yearning to learn about other cultures, and he has explained to me that before he was in India his whole life, he lived in Boston for six months, and has been here in Los Angeles for a month or so. His village in India is a vegan village, as Americans would call it. His ancestors did not eat meat or dairy for generations, and neither does he and his family. He has never eaten meat in his life. He has educated me to the fact that this is a religious choice. He is Hindu (there are different types of Hindus; not all are vegetarians or vegans). At his village, he has a pet ox, but the ox does not have a name. I told him I would name his ox. (My boyfriend recommended Taurus.) He has a refrigerator at his home in India but his father insists that he not use it because all food they eat should be fresh.
He came over yesterday to share an Indian snack he made that morning. It was made of dried rice and roasted pecans. I told him it was sweet and asked him if there was sugar.
“Of course there is no sugar. I don’t eat sugar.”
“There is sugar!” I argued. “It is sweet. It tastes like brown sugar.”
“Well, it is delicious.”
Over this snack, which I cannot pronounce or spell (though he told me like six times), he explained that American food is not food. He told me that most everything we eat is processed, and it is horrible for our health. He told me he cooks Indian food he gets from local markets from scratch because he is too afraid to eat anything here that he doesn’t cook himself.
“So you’ve never eaten anything here that you didn’t cook yourself?”
“I did, once, when I moved here to California. I was near Ikea getting furniture for my house and there was a place to eat – I don’t remember what it was called – so I got tomato soup and some vegetables. An hour later, I vomited.”
“Yes, it all came up. This is not food. You know, I was watching a woman at the cafeteria eating something that was frozen and she heated up. And she looked to be enjoying it! Can you believe that? You should never freeze your food! And the microwave. No, no. You Americans are very unhealthy. You cannot eat this food. You will all die. What are you eating there?”
“This? It’s Indonesian sate. Beef and rice.”
“That is not processed. That’s better, at least. Don’t eat the plastic, though.”
I was speaking to my boyfriend later about everything my new Indian friend had told me. He had just come back to the gym and we were on our way to his sister’s to eat pizza and brownies made by a papa named John.
“We need to get on his level,” my boyfriend told me, and I laughed. “I’m serious,” he said. “Tell him to teach us his ways.”
A Bestselling Author, NPO VP, and Psychology Today columnist from Burbank, California, Allie Burke writes books she can’t find in the bookstore. Having been recognized as writing a “kickass book that defies the genre it’s in”, Allie writes with a prose that has been labeled poetic and ethereal.
Her life is a beautiful disaster, flowered with the harrowing existence of inherited eccentricity, a murderous family history, a faithful literature addiction, and the intricate darkness of true love. These are the enchanting experiences that inspire Allie’s fairytales.
Allie has been featured in Refinery29 and Women’s Health Magazine.