All the people that asked me before I left for Rwanda if I would be able to eat here obviously have never seen the Kimironko market in Kigali. I was often asked this question because I follow a vegan and gluten-free diet, which can be difficult even in the states where so many things are accessible. Admittedly, I packed a few things in my suitcase that I could not live without (quinoa, agave, Bragg Apple Cider Vinegar!) but for the most part I was not concerned. I was actually looking forward to living in a society that lives mostly off real food.
One of the books that I brought with me was Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma, which surprisingly I had not yet read. I started reading it this weekend and realized how appropriate it will be to read while I'm here. In my opinion, one of the biggest problems that American's face when it comes to nutrition is industry is the lack of real food. Between factory farms and processed and refined foods, most American dinner tables rarely see whole foods. Yet we wonder, why in places around the world where diets may be heavy in fat or starches the people are still so much healthier.
Its amazing to be immersed into a society where there is such a direct connection between the people and the foods they eat. Their are no fad diets or diet books, no factory farms, no cows pumped with steroids and antibiotics. The food here is real. It is whole. It is local. Every inch of the Rwanda landscape is covered in land that is being harvested for one crop or another. You can not go anywhere in this country that I have seen thus far without seeing local women walking the streets, transporting huge sacks or baskets on their heads full of fruits or vegetables.
I just returned from the Kimironko Market, a huge open-air market a few miles from our home in Kimironko. You can find nearly anything there. For probably the length of a football field, stretched tables are filled with all types of produce. I found fruits from bananas to papayas, pineapples, mangoes, oranges and my favorite - avocados. I found vegetables, from beets to cauliflower, broccoli, garlic, onions, eggplant, zucchini. Starches such as rice, white potatoes and sweet potatoes. Beans of every variety, meats, eggs, milks. All grown here in Rwanda. John, our gardener and housekeeper, who escorted me to the market asked me if we had anything like this market in my country. I laughed out loud as I imagined the typical American grocery store in comparison. Even a typical Jersey farmer's market is light years away from anything quite this extensive.
But this is the way of life here. In some ways so simple, and so the omnivore's dilemma is not such a burden. When an American goes to the grocery store they are faced with shelves and shelves of brightly colored packages boasting all sorts of health claims and advertisements, making it difficult to decide what you want to eat and especially, what you should eat. Here what you eat is what you grow or what you raise. Simple as that. Part of the beauty of it is that food is so much fresher and more flavorful when it is eaten at its source! Food goes literally from the farm to the table - it does not get much fresher than that! The bananas are so sweet. The avocados are huge and delicious. And I can take pride in buying them (which at 100 Francs each, roughly .20¢, yes please!) because I know that my money is going directly to the farmer to feed his family, and that in general I am supporting the economy of a country that is so in need.
I can not wait to see more of how many Rwandas live and eat as I start working with Gardens for Health. Gardens for Health is an organization that connects families living with HIV/AIDS with co-op supplied land to in order to grow their own produce, which will provide food security and nourishment. I will hopefully be assisting them in conducting surveys in households affected with HIV and then contributing to their plans for nutritional counseling for those households as well.
I will continue to post about my experiences here with the organization, the people, the culture, and of course the food, so please stay tuned. Now it is time to decide which of these wonderful vegetables to cook for dinner!