September 18, 2011

Food Field Trip!

I had the opportunity last week to take an Ethnic Food Field Trip around Chicago with all 100 interns in the city.  We got on buses and started south of the 290 at the University of Illinois-Chicago campus in the morning.  Our first stop was North at Kedzie and Lawrence where we saw an impressive Hispanic supermarket full of interesting peppers, beans, and tons of spices.  I immediately  noticed an contradiction down one aisle as the left side featured traditional spices and the right side was lined with modern-American foods like Gushers, popsicles in plastic bags, and piles of sugar cereal in all forms.  Two worlds collide. 

At the same stop, we visited a Middle Eastern supermarket featuring bottles of Ghee (clarified butter), rows of olive oil, and a whole aisle of hookah tobacco.  The store smelled delicious and we noticed that the yogurt section was very different from a typical large grocery store: all they had was plain, whole yogurt – no food dye, no cartoons, and no added sugar.   It was perfect. 

My favorite stop of the day was Kamdar Plaza on Devon Ave which is an Indian market where we were treated to super spicy vegetarian samosas.  We were amazed at the selection of lentils in every color as well as huge bags of cumin, turmeric, ginger, and cinnamon.  I will definitely be back at that store to stock up – the prices were amazing, too.   

Next door at a meat market, some were shocked at the goats and sheep hanging by their hind-legs in the back of the store – eyeballs still in socket and skinned.  I think that this is an experience that many meat-eaters would rather miss out on.  When you pick up a package of clean, bloodless muscle in plastic wrap at the grocery store, you don’t have to experience death.  In my opinion, eating meat is an important choice each person makes and the more in-touch with the process you are, the more educated you become as a consumer and the more you understand your place in the world and the impact of your selections.  I wonder how our food culture would change if Safeway featured animal carcasses hanging in the meat section?    

We had a light lunch at Reza’s Restaurant in Andersonville with delicious hummus, pita, feta, tomato, basil and falafel.  Our last stop was Argyle and Broadway next to a Pho place I’ve been to several times already called “Tank Noodle” which is very decent.  For excellent banh mi, Ba Le is right next door featuring delicious sandwiches and very unique styles of Bubble Tea.  Our field trip leaders provided snacks along the way and the "Argyle" snack featured coconut rice balls - so delicious!  Several students had issues with the sticky, gooey texture of the rice flour, but I found the contrast to the crunchy coconut coating perfection.  

It was a really fun day, but the main point of it all is that dietitians need to have a cultural understanding and sensitivity to the value of food among different people.  In order to work with different clients and population, you have to understand their food choices based on culture, religion, and access.  In Seattle, I experienced international cuisine that differed from Chicago and now I can find new markets, neighborhoods and restaurants that I am unfamiliar with.  I think it’s important for us all to explore food cultures besides our own and to support small businesses and markets sometimes rather than your typical trip to your usual grocery store.  I can say that I’ll be back to go lentil, chili pepper, and spice shopping at many of the stores we visited on our field trip. 

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