Thursday, July 31, 2008

Disco GREEN card.

When you realize you are going to be living in a new strange place for a long time, or what seems like a long time, you look for ways to make your life to seem as normal as possible.  So when I got to Buenos Aires, I signed up for a gym, went to go see Indiana Jones, and got a DiscoPlus card.

So of course, especially as a vegetarian, sometimes I just want to buy Zucaritas (Frosted Flakes) and some boxed milk (leche asquerosa) that expires far later than should make you comfortable, and eat it in my room to avoid the constant meat abyss outside.  So finding a grocery store near your house is a must.  Probably the three most popular in Buenos Aires are Carrefour, I would say maybe your Sentry Foods; Disco, more like your Kopps; and Día, which is definitely on the Pick'n'Save side.  

On my keychain in Madison, I have my Kopps card, which when they swipe it usually allows me to save about $4.12, which seems muy poco in the U.S., but is 12.36 pesos here.  So when they asked me at my corner grocery store if I had a DiscoPlus card, I knew that I immediately wanted one to bring a sense of normalcy to my life.  Sort of like my Disco GREEN card.  If I flashed it, all Argentine people would immediately know that I was not a tourist, I was a spanish-speaking, law-abiding, grocery-buying foreigner.  

Now, why wouldn't I assume that it wasn't my Argentine Kopps card?  Finally after it had been swiped about 5 times, and I hadn't saved 61.80 pesos, I asked the cashier what ahm exactly did this card do? (para que sirve?)  She laughed at me and then pointed to a wall which looked like a grocery shelf with a lot of out of place items such as games, electronics, wineglasses with large numbers underneath like 1780 puntos for a razor or 410 puntos for a barbie doll.  Apparently I was accumulating points to win these fantabulous prizes.  I have about 160 puntos and I leave in about a week, with tomorrow being probably the last time I will go grocery shopping and I am quite concerned.  So many groceries and so little payoff, merely a full stomach.  But, alas, I was empty without my prizes!  

My choices right now are a 1-inch lego man that looks like a warrior or two Rayovac AA batteries.  Maybe I'll just hold onto my points and instead go for my dream prize, CRUCIGRAMA (spanish scrabble), for 680 puntos.  Only about 500 more to go; that's a lot of months of not starving. 

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

toFU** THAT! I'm not going in a VEGETARIAN restaurant!

I missed Tofu.  I say it in the past tense because up until a couple of hours ago I had gone over two months without it.  There is often a stigma attached to going to a vegetarian restaurant and I need to thus look for ways to disguise that the place we will eat will have a lot of options for me and not make the other person feel like their choices are being limited by my pickiness (no seas tan esquisita!).  

Having plans to eat dinner (cenar) with my boyfriend (porteño mío), Dani, tonight, and sick of him saying that there will be a lot of different pasta dishes to choose from, each slathered in olive oil and suctioned together by melted cheese (pero, amor mio, hay raviolis, canelones, tallarines o capeletis!), I decided that we were going to Chinatown.  This is actually just a 3-block section of the Belgrano neighborhood, which we walked as Dani grimaced at the notion that the food would simply not fill him up, saying that Chinese people are not 6'3'' and don't weigh 190 lbs (No me llena, se queja).  Sometimes people have the same reaction to vegetarian restaurants as they do to ethnic restaurants; it's too weird, too different, too. . not what they're used to.  After some eye-batting and caresses he reluctantly followed me into a Chinese restaurant and proceeded to tell the waiter all of his prejudices about their food.  I simply told the waiter that I wanted Tofu.  Shocked, he explained to me what Tofu was, and I patiently let him tell me it was a type of cheese, before saying that I was a vegetarian and eat it all the time in my soy-abundant Madison.  Dani, dismayed, said he wanted something swiney and the waiter kind of decided for himself what he was bringing us (no sé que pedí).

Pero, qué rico!  Oh yea, you like it?  Two giant plates of food came.  Mine, tofu and veggies in a savory sauce and Dani's, pork and veggies in a sweeter, peanuty sauce.  He was full and I was happy to not be eating a pile of unrefined carbs.  In amazement, Dani profusely thanks our waiter, saying that he is definitely going to come back.  So, the lesson:  Try to disguise restaurants with a lot of vegetarian choices, like Chinese(Belgrano) or Arab (Avenida Scalabrini Ortíz, tipo Villa Crespo y Palermo) and everyone is happy.  Meat eaters and tofu eaters sharing harmonious meals.  Now that's zen.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

. . soy vegetariana. . .

It is much more difficult to be a vegetarian in Latin America than in Madison, Wisconsin, the granola capital of the world.  Not getting enough protein is not the worst part, it's often that people simply don't understand the concept:

Not all vegetarians are alike.  In fact, according to a vegan, I am a cow-abusing monster for the yogurt or the SER™ Dulce de Leche pudding that I enjoy daily.  I, personally, do not eat any flesh or fish, and don't buy eggs, but will eat things with them, and I certainly savor a good harvarti dill cheese when my parents buy my groceries.

I had a conversation with an Argentine woman who I lived with surrounding this subject and she proclaimed herself a vegetarian after confessing that I was, only to take it back when she realized that it meant she couldn't eat chicken or ham.  I told my Ecuadorian abuelita daily that I didn't eat meat, to no avail, she would put a rice, bean and minced meat mezcla in front of me, much dismayed when I would stare blankly at the bowl.  She would then hand me the salt.  The first step to surviving not eating meat in Argentina is to learn how to say all the different kinds of meat. (No como pollo, ni carne, ni pescado, ni nada que antes era parte de un animal).

Luckily in Argentina, I am surviving.  Sometimes I have to be creative even when I am succumbing to lethargy from excess carbohydrates(empanadas, medialunas, pan) or fat(milanesa de soja, queso).  My most frequently ordered "meal" is pure de calabaza (mashed pumpkin), which can be found almost anywhere.  Zapallo (to my porteño boyfriend's horror, the word in english is butternut squash, "¿por qué tan largo?" se queja), is as abundant as the mora(blackberry) in Quito.  But, it isn't anything like the tofu-soy milk-spelt noodle-world I have so blissfully enjoyed since becoming a vegetarian in 2004 in my liberal bubble.

Being a health conscious vegetarian kind of makes you seem like a snob.  But when I say that I won't eat the Skippy™ Peanut Butter on the imported shelf at the Disco supermarket because it is partially hydrogenated and therefore not worthy of my digestion, it is not an affront on anyone who likes it(like my dad).  Same with meat, just because I am going to enjoy my Morningstar™ black bean burger or falafel when I get home doesn't mean that I have a problem with someone eating a juicy, greasy cheeseburger or a freshly sliced gyro.  

It certainly is not impossible to find a good organic or vegetarian restaurant, but just like when they put the menus in English for gringo tourists, sometimes I wish they would put the menu in vegetarian for me.


Traveling Vegetarianism

North American vegetarians are really spoiled.  Being one of them, when I go to any another country, vegetarianism is simply not as accepted, not as common or not as understood as it is in the Midwest.  Thus, other countries don't necessarily have the variety or accessibility non-meat eaters have come to enjoy in the United States and especially if there is a language barrier, it can be tough to get a satisfying meal.  I am living in Buenos Aires, Argentina and have lived in or traveled to both Europe and Asia and other South American countries as a vegetarian.  The experiences have been. . .Interesting. Fun. Frustrating. Delicious. Disgusting...but Noteworthy.