Let’s revisit the grocery store observations which began here. Our recent American visitors were surprised to find “Monkey Gland Potato Chips,” which reminded me again of this funny flavor. I first noticed it in the sauces and marinades section, and I can assure you it has no monkey parts in it. I’ve asked several South Africans who were equally puzzled about where that name may have originated! Definitely not likely to garner an American market I’d predict.
Along the lines of Potato Chips, also known as “crisps,” this country excels at producing a wide range of flavors! It can even be difficult to find the plain old “salted” ones.
We had seen this product on several menus and loved pronouncing its fun name.
Finally, Simon tried it at a restaurant served alongside a burger. Delicious! We have since bought chakalaka to have at home. Some lore says it originated in the kitchens of jails or gold mines as a way to use up excess produce. Now it is a standard in many communities with recipes and seasoning secrets a source of family pride.
It amazes me to see the quantity of feta cheese available in every grocery! Even the small gas station convenience store near us has plenty of options in their dairy case. It would be hard to find a salad without feta cheese on it here- even so, this is an impressive selection, don’t you think?
I will never get used to the sight of children barefoot in grocery stores! No kidding – you can find them shoeless at malls, parking lots, and garden stores.
It would not surprise me in a park, yard, or rural area, but in the pharmacy… really? It’s not a question of being able to afford shoes. I have talked with several people about this who had mixed opinions on it. But there was some consensus that it is a cultural thing, especially among (white) Afrikaners. I have explained my reaction to people and my ingrained American sensibility, “No shirts. No shoes. No service.” They find this quite amusing, “Really, you mean you could get kicked out!?” Less frequently you might spot a barefooted man like this one.
Something else I find interesting is the presence of this bread slicing machine at big grocery stores for shoppers to use. Yes, shoppers! You choose your loaf with your bare hands if you like, turn on the machine, pull the handle and the loaf moves through the 30 exposed and pulsing blades. One of the many things here that reminds us how fixated our own society is on liability.
My awareness of swings in food availability has grown gradually over this year. The first time I encountered shelves like this I definitely took note.
It was explained to me that because it was the end of the month (pay day), people were able to purchase more items thereby depleting supply. Made sense… a one-day rush on produce, milk, or meat could be difficult for suppliers to anticipate. There is a notable cycle of empty shelves towards the end of the month or around a holiday. Usually it sorts out within a day or two; but if you were hoping to find a selection of lettuces beyond iceberg on this particular day, you would be out of luck.
When I found empty banana bins last week, I watched some other shoppers. It appeared the absence of this mainstay was cause for a shoulder shrug at best. People are accustomed to unpredictability.
Our regular grocery store recently put up these signs giving customers another explanation for the lack of options. Other than an overall increase in food prices, this is the first indication I’ve seen of the effects of the ongoing drought.
One of the best effects of traveling is how it offers insights about where you came from and what you thought was normal. That we never really see empty shelves in America is pretty astounding! Suppliers and retailers have it all worked out so that everything is available pretty much all the time; they even know when there will be high demand on certain things. Thanksgiving comes around and there are loads of sweet potatoes and fresh cranberries. Perhaps the avocado prices do climb a bit at Super Bowl time. But isn’t it amazing, have you ever been to a grocery store in the US and not found basics like milk, potatoes, or bread?
The dark side to having that kind of constant abundance can only be a quantity of waste that we’d prefer not to see. I looked into this a bit and learned that 35 million tons of food is wasted in the U.S. annually; that’s 40% of food produced that is never eaten. Meanwhile, the data on hunger, food insecurity, and access to nutritious food remains troubling. Thank goodness so many organizations, foodbanks, and institutions are mobilizing around this issue to change the way food moves through that system. While it may not be reasonable to expect that 100% of food produced would be eaten, surely our country could get a little bit closer!
One thing we’ve been better about this year is shopping more frequently and more effectively. With a smaller refrigerator and fewer items in the pantry, we find ourselves buying for the meals we will cook and eat today and tomorrow. It’s also different to shop for meals based on what is available in the store rather than what we’d like to make. It’s resulted in less waste overall. Of course, it also helps to have an enthusiastic “Leftovers Eater-Upper” in the family — thanks Scott!
Maybe the less predictable shelves in South African stores are a more honest link to the cycle of food production than we experience back home. At the very least, I appreciate the reminder it provides me to examine my assumptions and expectations about our food supply.