When is the last time you felt alive? 

There’s a story behind this pile of #Cuban hot dogs. It’s kind of long. But it’s very important.

A thousand miles away, under a foreign sun, I hold my own culture up to the light. I reexamine the parts of my day that I live on #autopilot. I determine if I want to renew contracts with old habits. I can’t do that from within my own borders, borders of country and borders of being. And that’s one of the main reasons I travel.

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When I prepared for my trip to Cuba, my friend told me to bring #snacks. Cuba doesn’t really do snacks, she told me. I laughed to myself. I’ve lived in rural Nepal. Even they had imported packages of cookies and crackers.

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But she was right. Even once I found a grocery store, which took a good while, there were no snacks. In fact, there was hardly any food. There was, however, a pile of hot dogs, the arrangement of which fascinated me so much that I took this picture. And then felt a strong hand grab my arm, pull me to the side of the empty aisle, and point to a sign that had a camera with a line through it. No photography. I apologized. For some reason, he didn’t make me delete the photo.

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When my host family asked what I wanted for breakfast, I answered eggs and cheese. And milk with my coffee, please. I didn’t realize how scarce those things were. Except for the coffee. There was plenty of coffee. The next morning, the neighbor cut off a slice of cheese from her small block, wrapped it, and gave it to me.

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A week isn’t enough time to understand food scarcity, or the system that creates it, but it is enough time to force a reexamination of my own relationship to food.
In our culture of food #abundance, we demand that food be our #everything. We require it to entertain, to soothe, to pacify, to celebrate, and to numb. And the more we demand our food to be the response to all brands of emotion, the further we push it from what it is intended to do: #nourish.

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When we have so many stores, so many products, so many sizes, when we shop in a hurry, when we buy in bulk, we don’t have time to consider the cost of each slice of cheese. When we can cut those slices as thick as we want and when we have two, maybe three, more varieties in the fridge. And one block so big we couldn’t eat it fast enough before it started growing mold.

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So we take bites of sandwiches or salads with cheese or maybe not cheese because we’re dairy-free now because we can control what we want to cut from our shopping list and emotional eating list because there are so many dairy substitutes and anxiety substitutes to choose from.

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And so we eat our dairy-free or pork-free or gluten-free bites hurriedly between meetings and drafts and even during phone calls but we are too busy to even remember how it tastes. Or to know when we have had enough.

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So there I sit in Cuba, alone with every strong emotion because I don’t have a snack to pacify any of them. I remember (if I ever knew) what it’s like to eat with consciousness, for the sake of nourishment, to taste my food, and to stop when I’m full.
And I feel alive.

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Understand that I am NOT glamorizing food scarcity. There is nothing romantic about food rationing. But I do support stepping so fully into another way of life that I am forced to reexamine my own.

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