Cultural differences

What does your grocery list looks like?

11:19 AM

This morning I stumbled upon a link a friend shared on Facebook, which is about the project a photographer did, taking pictures of what a week of groceries look like in families around the world, you can view the pictures there.

I found it very interesting on many levels though I don’t think this would be considered an accurate representation of food habits of an entire nation. Because from country to country it seems that the family in the pictures do not all belong to the same socio-economic class, you can’t really accurately compare the diet of middle class American with the one of what seem to be the one of a rural and possibly nomadic family in Chad. And I know many Americans that do not eat as much take out and junk food as the family portrayed in that article.
That said if you look a bit closer at all the pictures you start noticing certain things that vary greatly from one region to another. One thing that stroke me the most was the amount of packaged non water drink amount. Many families from European countries and a few from the American continent seem to have more juice and soda bottles as part of their weekly groceries as most families in Asia and the Middle East, and you can’t necessarily chalk that to the income of these families as the Indian family portrayed is middle class, the Japanese one also seem to be middle class and urban, the Kuwait family also seem to be well off and yet all I see in their groceries are individual serve water bottles. 
I also find it interesting that the French have a lot of packaged drinking water compared to other European families, I know that many regions in France don’t necessarily get tap water that taste good, and a few decades ago I even went into some area where they actually told you to avoid tap water as it was not necessarily fit for consumption, and I have no idea how things improved, as you can imagine I haven’t been there in years.
Another thing I find very interesting is that the amount of fresh produce on the grocery list in these family is proportionate to the climate, Most of Europe has only a short season for fresh vegetables and fruits, with long Winters during which almost nothing will grow and it reflects in the eating habits of the families where you find more packaged food, cereals and meat. Countries were the climate is more temperate around the year have far more fresh produce entering a family’s diet as it is the case with the Mexican, Indian, Turkish and Guatemalan families. Both African representative families in the experiment seem to come from areas that are dryer and grain seems to be more of a staple for them, but again, I have a feeling that at least the family from Chad is belongs to a lower socio-economic class than the other families.

My typical Swiss family seem to have habits extremely similar from the French family pictured in that project, a fairly balanced diet of meat, starch, fresh fruits and veggies but probably more dairies as it is far more of a staple in Alpine areas in Europe. We used to have bottles sparkling water (called soda in India) and later a soda making machine to make tap water sparkling. It is something that amused DH when he visited there as he noticed that the Swiss will rarely drink plain water with their meal and almost exclusively was is called Soda in India, he even found it funny that we categorize the soda water as “strong” or “regular” depending of the amount of bubbles you will find in it. It’s not that we don’t drink plain water, we drink plenty of it, from the tap or packaged mineral water, but NOT at meal time. I think the logic is that the water intake should be less while you eat, and adding bubbles to it makes you less likely to down your water like a tanker, the fizz also seem to clean the palate better between courses.

Now since I live in India and have been doing so for nearly 10 years now, I can tell you that the picture of the Indian family’s groceries look quite accurate, the only thing that puzzles me is that they don’t seem to show the packs of dry lentils and other dry goods that are a significant enough staple in the desi diet. Instead they seem to show a lot of cooked dishes, and that has me scratching my head a little. From there I decided to see where our household of 3 members stood. I don’t have a picture to share because I did my weekly shopping on Saturday and as you can imagine all my groceries are already stored away but here is what a typical week of grocery supplies would look for us :

- 6 cans of diet coke
- 3 cartons of juice
- 4 cartons of soy milk (Ishi being slightly lactose intolerant)
- 4-5 big pot of Danone plain yogurt (DH prefers store bought dahi over homemade)
- 6 individual serving pot of Danone vanilla yogurt (Ishita’s favourite)
- One pack of 10 cheese slices
- One pack of cream cheese
- One pack frozen chicken salami (10 slice)
- One pack chicken breast or other chicken pieces
- 1-2 packs of cookies of one kind or another
- 12 apples
- about a dozen small bananas
- 2 musk melon (cantaloupe)
- 1 papaya 
- 1 -3 choices of other seasonal fruits (grapes, oranges, watermelon, peaches, lychee, plums, figs or mangoes)
- 5-6 fresh vegetables of choice (one is always a bout 1kg of tomato though, the other vary)
- 1kg Potato
- 1kg Onions
- 12 eggs
- 1-2 packs of whole wheat sliced bread
- 200g salted peanuts
- One bunch of coriander leaves.
- Once head of lettuce

These above are what ends up on the grocery list every week. Now there are the items we purchase in bulk and last about a month or a month and a half if not more:

- 5 kg Atta (whole wheat flour, last about 1.5 months)
- 2kg Maida (plain white flour lasts a month unless we are in December a month a do a lot of baking)
- 3kg toor dal (lasts a month)
- 2 litres of vegetable oil, (lasts 2 months)
- 2 litres olive oil (last about a year)
- Butter (once a month)
- 500g almonds (once a month)
- 500 walnuts (once a month)
- 1 Jar peanut butter (once a month if not every 1.5 months)
- 1 Jar Nutella (once a month)
- 1kg regular sugar (once every 1.5 months)
- 1kg caster sugar (once every 2 months)
- Frozen peas (once every 2-3 months)
- 1 kg frozen prawns (once a month)
- 1 pack of French fries (once every 1.5-2 months)
- 1kg oatmeal (once every 2 weeks)
- 500g tea leaves (every 2 months)
- 1-2 packs of speciality tea bags (once a month)
- 5kg of rice (every 6-7 months)
- 500g pasta, (once a month)
- 8 pack Maggi noodles (3-4 weeks)

These above are regular enough in our diet, then of course there are ALL the things we need to buy on occasion but never really often enough to put a set frequency of use on them: Spices, herbs, chocolate, speciality meat items, certain namkeens…
Another thing worth mentioning about our household, is that we are in the higher salary bracket, so things like walnuts and almonds are things we don’t have problem buying more often and include as a staple in our diet. And i am sure some of you might wonder about the milk being totally absent from our weekly groceries, well that’s because DH is the only one drinking some in his tea and an occasional glass of complan here and there, and we get it on a need of the day basis from the milk man, usually never more than 2 litres a week sometimes less.
For the Swiss that I am, the only major difference from our current diet here in India and what I grew up on is the amount of dairies, bread is also pretty much absent in my diet in India, in Switzerland sourdough bread is a daily staple in our diet.

15 comments

  1. Maggie10:17 AM

    Isn't that a little extravagant for a single income famly ? Looks like you are having a party or something.One of the things i learnt when i moved here was Why spend money on cans of coke when you can buy bottled version of it at half the price?Lol so true right. I haven't bought a can of soda since then.There was a day when i couldn't live without a bagel and orange juice for breakfast but now i shudder to think of all the processed food in my refrigerator back in U.S.

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  2. No dear extravagant would be champagne and caviar, so refrain from passing judgement on my income, and what i do with this money would you?
    As for diet coke...trust me I would buy it in bottles if they existed. I am insulin resistant, I can't handle the sugar in a regular coke, so unless they make the bottles available in India.

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  3. daslakshmi1:08 PM

    10 slices of cheese a week, No wonder you have a double chin woman. Resistant to insulin? then what about the sugar in the juice and other products.
    I agree with the Ameriiiiiicaan lady. its extravagant when you're living on processed food in India.

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  4. yes dear I am a fat bitch and I love it, I drink, I eat cheese,and now if you'll excuse me let me go soak in that Belgian chocolate bath while I go scrub my scalp with black truffle oil.
    If you hate my life so much be happy it is not yours and live you own...wait do you even have one of these to begin with?

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  5. extravagant: Adjective
    Lacking restraint in spending money or using resources.
    Costing too much money.Synonyms
    wasteful - lavish - prodigal - excessive - unreasonable

    ---

    If they use it, it isn't wasteful
    If it is something you can get most readily, it isn't lavish
    She isn't having a grocer create something new, thus, it isn't prodigal.
    They don't appear to be lazy and unable to move, so it isn't excessive.

    Thus, you are the unreasonable one. A bit extravagant with your comment if you ask me.

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  6. Beatrix5:11 PM

    What's up with the snotty comments?
    I do not understand what Indians have against cheese?
    Anyone care to explain? Cheese is 1/3 fat & 2/3's protein, it isn't like eating straight butter.
    Cyn is NOT eating 10 slices of cheese herself- she does have a growing child & husband that eat also.
    I have never seen a liter bottle of DIET coke anywhere in India.
    Do Indians realize that pile of white rice(a simple carbohydrate) they consume at least twice daily makes the blood glucose soar just like the sugar in fruit juice?
    Some of the ideas Indians have about nutrition are just bizarre & absolutely unfounded.
    BB
    MD/Ph

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  7. I don't think there is any rational way of talking with certain people :)
    The hilarious part is that apparently the one pack of cheese slices that mostly get eaten by my growing daughter seems to have lead to the deduction that I ONLY eat processed food and am extravagant in my spendings. Clearly those thinking that way are challenged in their reading and interpretation skills because anybody taking the time to read properly would see that about 90% of my groceries are from non processed sources and a big chunk of my weekly groceries come from fruit, vegetables, and nuts. But yeah it's a well known fact that one pack of cheese or a few cans of diet coke negate all that...duh!

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  8. Beatrix5:41 PM

    It has been so long since I've lived in the US I've forgotten what all 'prepared products' are available.
    HAH!
    My mom had a restaurant in California & was a bit of a hippy health freak so we never really bought a lot of 'prepared foods' while I was growing up either.
    I do miss the European style breads & cheeses we had in California. There was a Basque bakery that had the most delicious French breads in the town where I grew up (Sonoma). My uncles on my mom's side all have dairys & would bring us fresh cheese & of course Dutch style Gouda.
    Another thing growing up in California we were quite spoiled with having year 'round fresh fruits & vegetables.
    I was quite surprised when I first moved out of California how expensive fresh produce was & the limited selection. (Dumb me)
    I am happy to say that one of the perks of living in rural Nepal is year round, cheap, high quality, fresh seasonal fruits & vegetables.
    (With a rather surprising variety & selection- we even get persimmons in the Fall & avocadoes in the Winter.)
    We don't really have a tight budget so we pretty much buy what ever we want.
    But prepared foods, baked goods, dairy products, are all a bit dodgy & expensive in Nepal.
    So I make my own yogurt & paneer, and bake a cake, pie, cookies, or a fruit bread once a week.
    My kids prefer almonds, walnuts,cashews, & pistachios to chips & 'chat'. I keep a bowl of seasonal fresh fruits on the kitchen table to snack on too.
    We haven't gotten into the 'soda' or juice habit- sometimes my sons will buy juice or coke or whatever on their way home from school but I haven't forbade it or anything.

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  9. Beatrix5:54 PM

    Well, I deducted from reading your list there were a lot of 'finger foods' & things a toddler would easily be able to eat?

    Which is what I would expect & is what was on my list when I had toddlers in my house.



    I am slowly learning there is no rational way of talking with some people- why I keep trying is beyond me.

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  10. I do all my baking from scratch too, I buy one or two packs of cookies a week because Ishita likes to have them in her tiffin as a side to the fruits or salads I put in there. And there are weeks I simply don't have time to get into cookie making mode :)
    I think in Switzerland "prepared food" is what comes from the fresh zone, it's basically fresh pasta that only needs you to cook them at home, pre-cooked dumplings and other things that will last no longer than 3 days between the time you buy it and the time you should consume it. The biggest hit back home are precooked pizza bases with fresh and raw tossed topping, you can't keep them more than 2-3 days in their package unless you toss them in the freezer. Buying pizza frozen is something people simply won't do back home. The only thing people buy frozen in Switzerland are vegetables because there is a fair chunk of the year where the choice of seasonal fresh vegetables is nil unless it is imported (and costly). Cheese and bread are a staple in the traditional Swiss diet because that's what will be available and preserve well even in the dead of Winter.
    Ishita likes to munch on almonds and raisins a lot too :)

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  11. Your deduction was good and very rational :) there is indeed a lot of finger food on my grocery list because in order to nurture my 3.5 years old idenpendance it is important to have food she can handle herself well on her own without loosing patience and making a mess.
    Not to mention I'll snak on a pack of cherry tomatoes or a cup of nuts over a pack of chips anytime myself.

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  12. Beatrix6:18 PM

    Yes, my husband is Kashmiri & nuts & dried fruit are traditional 'snacks' in Kashmir, so I guess my kids get it from him.

    We had fresh pasta & pizza dough in the refrigerator case in California too. Fresh tortillas, salsas, guacamole too- all sorts of Mexican stuff YUM!

    That's 'prepared food' as well as things like instant noodles, canned goods, frozen foods, 'convenience' products- like cake mix, biscuit mix etc , then snacks- chips, crackers, cookies, ice cream/frozen novelties (I don't think any country has as many prepared snack foods as the US).

    The ice cream here in Nepal is disgusting, I actually have my grandparents old wooden ice cream churn from Holland- it makes 5 galllons of ice cream at a time!
    I do buy Tang! the instant drink mix to makehome made popsicles for my husband & sons in the hot weather, it is sugary but at least it has \vitamin C & iron.

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  13. Seems pretty well balanced. You aren't malnourished like 47% of Indians are and you're not a glutton either. It's great you can enjoy such a diverse diet instead of always eating the staple Indian foods of ghee and rice (not together, but as prime ingredients in half their diets).

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  14. I love to cook, maybe because I love diversity on my plate too :-) And I know some people that drizzle ghee on their rice, so you aren't off base, it does happen.
    DH and I have been pretty clear on the fact we'd rather spend more on groceries to include fruits and nuts as a staple.

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  15. Amitsinha Bangalore9:33 PM

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    ReplyDelete

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