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Food: Imports and Costs

September 21, 2012

So, it’s about six weeks later since my last food post.  Seriously, where does the time go?  But, regardless, now I can do a good garden update, right?

Our garden is more of an experiment in tropical gardening than a solid source of food.  Pests and fungi have spent more time in our garden, than we have eating from it.  But, we’ve had lettuce, tomatoes (like, two), cucumbers, biteku, and lots more on the way.  The soil here is mostly sand, so some of the plants, even though we’ve mixed in compost, ash, and fertilizers, just don’t produce fruit.  All of them have grown well, but producing fruit?  Not so much.



Birds enjoy the green tomatoes before we get to the red ones, the melons and squash have all shriveled before they get big enough to be more then noticed.  It’s sort of depressing, but we’re pushing on.  It looks like the carrots and onions are enjoying themselves in the ground.  The local plants, such as the mitembula and biteku are thriving.  I haven’t tried the mitembula, but biteku can be compared to spinach, mostly.  It is not like spinach in flavor, but you cook the leafy plant and eat it alone or as part of a dish.  It’s pretty good, actually.  We did bring some seeds that we ordered online.  My “heat resistant” lettuce has done very well, when I remember to go get it.  Oh, and the green beans are just fine.  Because the food here is “real,” you can plant the seeds from the produce and, for the most part, we’ve been successful in that.  We have a lot of papaya trees sprouting along the back wall.  It’ll produce more papaya than any one family could eat, but perhaps a good side job, or an easy way to give freely to people who are hungry?  I don’t know if we’ll see any fruit before we move out, though.  And, if you count the trees as part of our garden, then you’ll be happy to know that we’ve eaten plenty of fresh coconuts and mangos and are anxiously awaiting the avocados.  They will be ripe in less than a month.  And then we’ll have more avocados than we know what to do with!

A tiny green bell pepper. When they’re not in season, this is as big as they get!

So, where does the rest of the food here come from?  Everywhere.  Literally, every country in the world might send food here.  The bulk of our food comes from South Africa and all over Europe.  Of course, China is a big contributer.  Many of the store owners are from Middle Eastern countries, like Lebanon and Pakistan, so they have their own sources.  And, yes, some companies based in the US have food here, but mostly it’s a question of cost.  (There are no chains here from the states: food, grocery, or otherwise, by the way.  Not even a McDonalds.)

The typical size for a can of tomato paste…I estimate it to be about 2oz.

When food comes from everywhere, besides cost, you get the challenge of language.  Sometimes it’s in English, sometimes French, sometimes just Arabic or German, or some crazy combination.  It’s usually not a problem, but when I need directions and they’re only in Arabic, well, time to get creative!  There is no standardization on food labels or packaging requirements, either.

From left to right: Africa’s Choice is a local brand that sells many products, mostly dairy and snacks – this is evaporated milk; Shoprite has it’s own store brand and the packaging is so horrid – it cracks me up; Belle Hollandaise is our favorite powdered milk so far. It tastes almost like the real thing!

My favorite example are the french fries that we buy.  I am not a huge french fry person, but everyone else here seemed to always buy them.  Somehow, they’re just a good food to have here and now we eat them often.  Easy side dish, quick to make (we do fry them in local palm oil), and they’re reasonably affordable.

The french fry bag: directions in over 20 languages!

Of course, the biggest difference here is the cost of food.  It’s high for nearly everything, except bread.  Local bread is priced by the government at 200FC per loaf.  You can get a loaf in any size or shape, but that’s about $0.20 each.  And it’s good bread (tasty, not necessarily good for you).  Basic, white, fresh-that-day bread.  We found a lady a few blocks away who has quite the assortment of shapes and sizes, including delicious eggs rolls that are bright yellow and make great baked French toast.

Prices of meat are high, but not completely out of reach if you are moderate in your consumption.  Cheese is extremely expensive, but we do have it, just less than we’re used to (which also might be the reason I’ve lost a lovely 20+lbs and dropped two sizes down to pre-pregnancy weight).  Produce, even on the streets, is more than you pay in the Lower 48.  However, our sticker shock here is mild after living in Alaska, where, for the same reason of high import costs, food prices are high.  You just learn to eat according to budget.  It’s too hot to eat too much anyway.

Everday is the “store brand,” but it’s found in almost every store. This is a can of naked tuna.  Never mind the dent.  They’re all dented.  Botulism: bring it on.

Another Everday brand product. They are labeled in French on one side and Dutch on the other. Any guesses as to what this is? (My dear friend, Nicolien, and anyone using Google translate, not invited to participate.)

Next up in the Food Series: Preparation!  See our kitchen, what we do when the power is out, and coping with things living in your dry products…

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Nic permalink
    September 21, 2012 0829

    I want to play too!!!
    By the way, I’ve never heard of that brand of sinaasappelsap!

  2. Diana Rice permalink
    September 21, 2012 0829

    Isn’t it a juice box? At least the snake looks like he’s drinking one.

  3. Sarah Hodges permalink
    September 21, 2012 0829

    What about donga-donga (okra) or pineapples (2 seasons a year. Lop off the top, stick in the ground, et le voila!)

  4. Donna Resnick permalink
    September 21, 2012 0829

    I think it must be apple juice.

  5. Katie Jo Long permalink
    September 21, 2012 0829

    apple sap? that means apple juice I’m guessing. looks like you’ve got a pretty good variety of foods available. The veggies look exciting. It’s “cool” there now and starting to warm up, right? Looking forward to hearing how your garden does when it gets hotter.


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