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Navigating Food

Posted on Friday, March 18, 2022
By
David Gee

Welcome to Part Five of our Goer Essentials Series, where we’ve asked Goers to sound off on the essentials to thriving in life overseas. In today’s article, we cover food!

GOER ESSENTIALS:  10 ESSENTIALS TO THRIVING IN LIFE OVERSEAS

For this Goer Essential series, we surveyed 25 Goers who are serving two-year global placements in 10 different countries on 4 continents.  These articles are your chance to hear directly from Goers as they share their triumphs, best practices, amusing gaffes, and deep experiences of learning to live, thrive, and make an impact while immersed in a new culture!

About the author:  David Gee served for two years in a GoCorps placement in North Africa serving refugees from across the middle east.  In this Goer Essential series, he shares his own experiences alongside the stories and lessons learned of Goers serving all over the world using their unique skillsets and training to fight injustice, serve the oppressed and share the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Part Five - Navigating Food

Changing your address to the nations often means changing your diet, our Goers shared what it’s been like diving into a new culture’s food and how it’s impacted their own kitchens.

Confession. I have eaten every single part of a goat. I know what you’re thinking — and yes. Every. Part. 

It feels strange writing that from the comfort of an American coffee shop, but in North Africa when I was gathered around a plate the size of a truck tire that was piled knee-high with rice and meat, it actually felt quite normal to just dig in and eat whatever was in front of me. Eat first, ask questions later I always said. 

You see, living overseas has this way of rewiring your approach to food. Things that would have seemed gross and foreign slowly ebb towards normal as you adjust to a new culture. At the beginning, you learn to just stomach whatever you’re given whether it’s a sugar cane smoothie or a liver sandwich. And then, before you know it, you’re the one ordering liver sandwiches from a greasy cart off the street as you go home to try to brew your own Turkish coffee.

Food is the gateway to another culture, and it provides a lot of opportunities to make friends, be humbled, and learn new recipes.

Food is the gateway to another culture, and it provides a lot of opportunities to make friends, be humbled, and learn new recipes. We reached out to some of our own Goers to hear their reflections and thoughts on adjusting to another culture’s cuisine and how that adjustment is affecting their own culinary skills.

Diving Into New Foods

For some Goers, a world of new foods feels exactly as exciting as you would expect:

“It’s arguably the best part of my placement.  Italian food is amazing, but there certainly are some strange entrees as well.

-Aaron, Italy

“I love almost all the food here and I love to cook. I haven't had a lot of time to gain new skills, but I hope to learn a lot more over these 2 years.” 

-Samuel, Indonesia

But it’s also important to remember that new foods aren’t a breeze for everyone, and for some, the adjustment is more nuanced.

“As a picky eater, I was a little worried about what I would have to get used to. However, I have slowly built my pallet up and am now able to eat most of the local food (although I don't necessarily enjoy all of it). I think it is important to try local cuisine and find a few dishes that you really like so they can be your go-to if you are at a new restaurant or with friends.”

-Liz, North Africa

“Embrace new experiences, but know your limits. You always want to avoid offending, but don't make yourself sick because you aren't sure how to say no.”

-Julie, Ecuador

Sometimes our love for Jesus and desire to be a good neighbor can push us to adjust our pallets and do our best.

And so even if a local cuisine isn’t necessarily sticking, sometimes our love for Jesus and desire to be a good neighbor can push us to adjust our pallets and do our best. However, as Liz in North Africa reminds us, it’s also ok to pass on the host food and indulge in a dish from home. She writes:

“Also, I think there is no shame in making a meal every once and a while that reminds you of home. Yes, I brought a couple of boxes of Kraft Mac n Cheese and on the really hard days, they are a great sense of comfort”

-Liz, North Africa

Kitchen Adjustments

The food of a new host culture doesn’t just impact your stomach, it also impacts your kitchen and your sanity at the grocery store. Our Goers sounded off on these effects that range from new culinary skills to having to tactfully map out grocery store runs. 

“I've definitely learned a lot about cooking (more) from scratch rather than grabbing pre-made meals or pre-prepped ingredients at the store!” 

-Julie, Ecuador

“If I wanted to make something, I had to look up a recipe beforehand, and make sure I knew the names of all of the ingredients in Spanish! At the store, things are often arranged differently than they are in the States, and it sure takes a lot of courage to ask for help finding something in your second language! Often, I would come back from the store one day, with half of the ingredients and have to go again the next day to a different store…baking cookies could turn into a 3-day process.”

-Rosie, Costa Rica

And for some Goers, cooking actually ends up being one of the best tools to master their new host language.

"I recently started cooking with my language partner. It is a good way to learn how to cook with local ingredients, learn the prices, quantities necessary, and tangible ways to learn more language." 

-Neema, West Africa

The Deeper Things

And while food can open doors of both joy and frustration, if there’s anything we learn from Jesus it’s that it can also be an invitation to encounter him deeply as we minister to our neighbors and allow the Spirit to humble us at the table of our host culture. Hannah and Rosie leave us with some remarks along this vein.

It can also be an invitation to encounter him deeply as we minister to our neighbors.

“[My frustrations were] a great lesson for me in realizing how we each come from the perspectives and traditions that formed us and that's how we see the world. Have grace for it, share your comfort foods with your new friends, but be more willing to eat their favorite dishes. They'll be delicious!”  

-Hannah, Mexico

“Since I've been here, I've learned how to pit an olive, seed a cucumber, dice onions the correct way, peel a yucca root, prepare pejibayes and pejibaye soup, make tortillas, slice a mango, prepare platanos, maduros, and patacones, make Texas-style fried pickles and sweet tea, mash potatoes with just a fork, and, maybe most importantly — how to ask a neighbor for help!”

-Rosie, Costa Rica
 

Conclusion

So whether we come to the table able and ready to communicate the Gospel, or simply needy and unable to slice a mango without the help of a neighbor, there is an opportunity for Christ to shine through.

Key Takeaways

  • Having access to a new culture's food can be awesome.
  • But sometimes it’s not — give your palette and stomach some grace.
  • Comfort foods from home are ok!
  • Navigating food and tables is a chance to be humbled by Jesus as well as display Him. 

Dive Deeper

Check out other blogs in this series here.

David Gee

David is fluent in both Texan and Arabic, and likes to write about everything he has learned from those two worlds colliding. He’s a Goer alum that spent two years in the Middle East learning Arabic and working with Yemeni refugees, and continues to minister to immigrants in his community today. Catch him drinking coffee, riding a skateboard, or doing both at the same time.

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