Monday, July 25, 2011

Eating For My Country

Madeleine Albright was on The Daily Show after wrapping up her term as SecState and said she had lost some weight since she was no longer eating for her country. It's not only the higher-ups who are called on to put their stomachs to the service of their homeland - on my trips this week I did it too.

Arriving at a mining town guesthouse on Friday night after six hours on a bone-shakingly bumpy road all I wanted was to crawl into bed, but my gracious hosts wished to honor me with a three-course meal. I ate, even the canned tuna and greyish green beans. What else could I do?

On Tuesday I visited the site of a juice factory currently under construction. The partners' wives made lunch for us: local specialties prepared under local hygiene standards. I ate, hoping to be spared the consequences I ended up enduring on Wednesday. How could I not?

Being Food People I fully understand that when someone offers you a meal it's not about nutrients. They are offering you a part of themselves, welcoming you into their life. It's a social thing but a personal thing as well, and as a diplomat you don't say no to that. You fill your plate with whatever it is and you eat it, at least a little bit of everything, and find genuine ways to compliment the chef. When I like people I feed them, and when people feed me I do my best to show them I appreciate it, even when the cuisine itself is not quite to my usual standards.

Who is my model food ambassador? Anthony Bourdain. I love No Reservations for the combination of food porn and travel porn, but I also love how good Anthony Bourdain is at realizing that sometimes the food isn't about the food. When he eats at fancy high-end restaurants he can be devastatingly critical, but when he eats at someone's house he's never anything less than absolutely complimentary and grateful that someone went to all the trouble to feed him whatever it is, even if it's yak butter tea.

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