The first question people ask me here when they discover I’m vegetarian is, “why?” Argentina is the world capital of beef. Meat is eaten at all times of day, often accompanied by a healthy serving of carbohydrates in the form of bread or potatoes. Porteños live on this hardy diet, and many people travel to Argentina to experience this rich culture of eating. Then there’s me. As a committed environmentalist, animal rights advocate, and all-around healthy eater, my diet is a piece of me I am not willing to compromise. As a result, it has been more difficult to find foods I like here. My host family is wonderfully accommodating and I never leave the dinner table hungry, but I am responsible for finding food throughout the day. Because I live in a fairly gentrified neighborhood, when I first moved here, I had a feeling I would be able to find somewhere that had foods I enjoy eating. I should also mentioned that I inherently love the taste of meat, so I knew I had to find alternative options quickly. Sure enough, on a mission around the neighborhood one day to find such a store, I stumbled upon a small health food store a block north from my house. I rang the buzzer, (a custom many stores have here), and a man who could be my abuelo, in a striped button down shirt tucked into corduroys and rectangular glasses answered the door. “Estás buscando por algo en particular?” (Are you looking for anything in particular?) he asked. No, gracias, sólo mirando (no, thank you, just browsing) I replied. I embarked on a lap around the store, and quickly realized the heaven I had entered. Granolas, rice crackers, olives, and vegan cheeses dominated the aisles. As soon as I would see one thing, I would spot another, and run/skip to scoop it up. Big day. My kid in a candy shop excitement was not concealed well, (not that I tried), and the old man came over and asked if I wanted to see his new shipment of grains. I nodded and he showed me some products. Perhaps he doesn’t meet many shoppers with such enthusiasm for his livelihood, but he seemed eager to show me his favorite selections. Two shopping bags later, I left happy and sped walked home to start snacking.
Since my first visit, I’ve returned to stock up on food once a week. Every time, the man greets me kindly and shows me a new product. I don’t even know his name, and he doesn’t know mine. Our mutual nerdy love for health foods has created a bond. I don’t know how he would handle watering a house plant or picking up someone at the airport, but in the domain I know him in, food shopping, I trust him. In many of my posts, I speak of my affinity for breaking routine and entering the unknown, but I will admit that it’s nice to be a regular somewhere. To enter a space and have people already know what you like is a satisfying affirmation of self. As natural selfish beings, when we see a reflection of who we are in others, no matter the language or age barrier, we feel at ease. Also, anyone who considers edamame pasta a staple food is someone I can trust.