Food or happiness? Pick one.

Via on Aug 12, 2011

I’m hungry.

But it doesn’t mean i’m unhappy. I have come to a few realizations these past days, about happiness, food, and the fact that there is none where i live. Vegan food, that is. I’m vegan in the most vegan unfriendly place ever and it s-u-c-k-s.

When I cook, there is always a purpose behind it other than “I need to eat something”. If my purpose is solely “I need to eat” (usually on the nights when I get home at 10pm from teaching double late-night yoga classes), dinner will consist of culinary treats such as oatmeal, a 6” veggie-something from Subway (yuck) or peanut butter on whole wheat. This is not cooking. This is feeding myself when I’m on the verge of starvation and there is nothing to eat in the house. I like to cook because I want to eat something delicious. Something beautiful. Something fresh, something nurturing, something colorful. I enjoy preparing food so much more when it’s less about the feeding and more about the cooking.

The thing is, since I moved to Aruba a year and a half ago, these days of feeding myself as opposed to cooking for myself, have increased. A lot. I live on this tiny island in the Caribbean now. It’s a fact that I have to accept. I’m not in Costa Rica anymore. How I miss living in the country of rainforests! Where there is such an abundance of fresh, organic fruit and vegetables it’s hard to make use of it all. Ever been to Costa Rica during mango season? If you’re a mango fan, I suggest you go in the summer. There are so many of them they literally pile up along the roads, making the whole country smell of orange, delicious mango sweetness. Enjoy it with a fresh coconut, watching the sun sink into the Pacific Ocean. Or, instead of eating mango, go for a mangosteen. It’ll blow your mind. Or try pejibayje, maracuyá, papaya, guayaba, tamarindo… My personal favorite is the mamónchino. Never heard of these fruits? You’re missing out. The list of Costa Rican fruits and vegetables I miss goes on and on. But, like I said; I don’t live here anymore.

I’m not in The States, either. Ah, the grand U S and A. Home of Trader Joe’s, Mother’s Market, Hannaford, and of course; the greatest love affair of my life: Whole Food’s. The first time I walked into a Whole Food’s I broke down crying. Really. This was in San Diego, a few years ago, before I dove into the vast ocean that is American health food chains with their Tofurky, 200+ types of hummus, raw bars and kombucha in all it’s forms. America is definitely the country of anything you want, at anytime. Did you know you can get veggie hot dog’s at two in the morning in Portland, Oregon? Vegan options in pretty much every single restaurant in the LA-area? Farmer’s markets in all the cities of Illinois offering the best local produce around? I have a love affair with farmer’s markets too (similar to my slight obsession with Whole Food’s, but that’s more of an unhealthy relationship). I love chatting with local vendors surrounded by massive pumpkins, funky looking pears and bundles of crispy, green celery along with jars of home-made preserves and raw honey.

There is no Whole Food’s around the corner where I am now, no aisles of vegan chocolate and ready-made raw dinners. No farmer’s markets. We don’t even have a health food store! So no, I’m definitely not in The States.

Nor am I in Sweden, in the midst of Nordic summer with forests so filled with blueberries they stain your pants as you walk by. No apples from the neighbor’s yard (apples always taste better from the neighbor’s yard), no just-picked chanterelles on toast, no rhubarb plants at the side of the road, no fresh summer potatoes with peel so thin you can taste the earth. No chives, no dill, no lavender. No herbs springing up from the ground wherever you go, ready to be chopped and used for dinner. No cherry trees, no cloudberries (never heard of a cloudberry? Before you die, go to Scandinavia and try one. It will change your life). No lingonberries. No strawberry fields. How I miss the strawberry fields.

But no. I left Sweden years ago. I’m in Aruba now. Which is great, don’t get me wrong. I can give you a very long list with reasons to why I love it here. More than I love living in Costa Rica, The States, or Sweden. Still, i can’t get over the fact that there are certain things i really do miss. But isn’t it so, that the grass is always greener on the other side of the pond? Things were not all perfect in all of the other places i’ve lived. In Costa, I had a hard time making a living. Earning $1 an hour slaving as a waitress was not a very promising career. Also, in raining season, it rains. A lot. There were times when I was afraid my puppy would drown on her way from the driveway into the house. No good. And when it rains for three months straight, things tend to get moldy. I am not a big fan of mold. In the end, I think it was the mold and not the $9 a day paycheck that made me leave Central America.

What I didn’t like about The States? So many things looks the same. I hate that. No matter where you go, what state, what city, north or south, east or west – you will find that each place is just a slight abbreviation of where you just came from (I’m exaggerating a little, but you get the point). You’ll see the same Wendy’s, Taco Bell, Costco, Target, Sears, K-Mart, Walmart, BiMart, Amart, (it took me a while, to get over the mart’s), Applebee’s, Olive Garden, Forver 21, Old Navy, Burger King – no exaggeration here. Everything is a franchise! There are some incredibly beautiful places to see, no doubt, but there is not enough culture for me. I might be upsetting some of you now, especially seeing that this is an American based website – but it is true. I am European. Where I am from everything is very, very old. Each place has a rich history, tons of culture; and my favorite part: there is usually just one of each thing. If the restaurant we’re going to is duplicated somewhere else, I’d rather stay home. My absolute favorite American city? Portland, Oregon. If you’ve ever visited, you’ll know why. It reminds me of Sweden, with hundreds of little independent cafés and restaurants greeting you at every corner, tiny clothing stores, libraries, places with soul. The larger part of The United States is way too corporate for me.

And what about Sweden? Well. I love my home country, but anyone who voluntarily lives in a place where the sun goes into complete hiding during four full months of the year, is nuts. Unless you’re allergic to light. Then Sweden might be a good country for you. Not me. I’m happy in the sun. I’m happy in Aruba.

But why is it so, that the grass always a little greener somewhere else?

On the island where I live now, there is definitely sunshine. Lots of it. Salaries are great. No mold. No rain. We have diversity. Culture. All the things I was missing. But – here is the but – NOTHING GROWS HERE. Wait, that’s a lie. Things do grow here, just not the type of plants you want to take into the kitchen. There is a lot of cacti, for instance. Aloe Vera. Stingy bushes that rip your dress if you walk to close. But there is nothing to eat. Everything is imported. On a good day, we get it from Venezuela (30 kilometers south and technically almost local). On a bad day, we get it from The States (far, far away…). I am hungry here. A lot. I’ve started eating french fries, chips, things that aren’t 100 % vegan – all sorts of weird things are happening to my diet and it’s freaking me out! I even tried to start eating fish a few months ago, figured it’s gotta be better for me to down a mahi-mahi or two instead of filling up with the few, shitty vegetarian options there are on the menu (creamy white pasta, fried things, booze?). But I couldn’t do it. Four years of veganism has made it virtually impossible for me to even think about eating anything with a central nervous system.

So what’s a poor vegan girl to do? Well. Right now she is meditating on her life situation.

Fact: for the first time in my whole entire life, I feel completely at home. I want to stay here, right where I am. The rootlessness I’ve always felt is gone. I might be a little hungry, but I’m happy. I get to wake up every morning and teach yoga on a powdery white beach. I take my dogs for a swim in an ocean that is so turquoise it’s hard to believe it’s real. The sun shines non-stop, I get to wear flip-flops all day long, I have a boyfriend I love, a job that’s so much fun it doesn’t feel like I’m working at all, great friends…. I have never been happier, and life is good. The food is not. But I think that’s something I can learn to live with. I’m realizing; this is where the grass is the greenest. Even though there is no grass at all.

Me. With avocados.

About Rachel Brathen

Rachel is a yogi on a world tour. Born and raised in Sweden, she currently resides in the beautiful island of Aruba where she is busy teaching yoga at a resort in the mornings, coordinating retreats at noon, taking her three somewhat crazy dogs to the beach to keep up with the surf in the afternoon and trying to survive as a vegan (where no vegetables grow!) in the evenings. She firmly believes that life is not black or white – it’s black and white and blue and yellow with rays of pink and sparkle in between. You can teach yoga and still be a party animal. Meditate and ignore your spending problems. Be vegan and eat too much chocolate. Have a Swedish passport and live in the Caribbean. You can do anything, as long as it’s you! You can find Rachel on the beach, probably practicing her Astavakrasana, or on facebook.com/rachelsyoga.

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8 Responses to “Food or happiness? Pick one.”

  1. ARCreated says:

    I here ya's sister!! you are truly a rock star!! are those really avocados???

  2. stephanie says:

    I love your post! I think I'd take happiness over a crappy meal anyday. By the way those are the biggest avocados I've ever seen.

  3. Griet says:

    Rachel!!!
    Great articles you write, very recognisable and with a lot of humour! Enjoyed the one on paddleboard yoga a lot too!
    You must admit though that those avocado's from superfood are delicious! :) Great as a spread on whole wheat bread in the morning, together with your freshly squeezed orange juice…
    But I get you, I am vegetarian, not even vegan and indeed there is not too much choice… Luckily we partially get fed by the sun…
    LOVE!

    Griet

  4. iloveginger says:

    living your best life! love it! Like you i have lived in a variety of locales..for sure- no place is Perfect! but Aruba sounds close… im going to research if they use midwives on that island… XO

  5. Daniella says:

    make friends with cunucu people, they love to give homegrown pumpkins and sweet potatoes as gifts! or maybe buying veggies in bulk at pricesmart? cheap bags of beans? i can't even find beans in holland.. good luck :) (i'll relate with the crying at whole foods when i get to california for my semester abroad right??)

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  7. Rachel says:

    for me it is. we don't have a good kitchen, and teaching every night makes it very hard for me to find time to cook. it is so expensive to buy fruits and vegetables we end up completely broke, and the fact that there is not a single place to eat that caters to me (unless i'm looking for white pasta and french fries), is very frustrating!

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