Arusha, Tanzania, 2010
Every Saturday, I would walk along dirt roads from my accommodation to the local grocery shops, Cash’n'Carry and Pick’n'Pay. I lived with three other volunteers, and we had a meal system worked out: Mondays to Thursdays, we each had a cooking night and a washing up night (there was no dishwasher). Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays we would fend for ourselves.
The other three were vegetarian, and one was coeliac as well as lactose-intolerant. It was here that I learnt to cook meals that were vegetarian, gluten-free, dairy-free, colourful, full of protein, and delicious. I would buy what my non-fruit and non-vegetable groceries were at both Cash’n'Carry and Pick’n'Pay, depending on what the item was – some things were cheaper in one shop than the other, and when you are volunteering, every Tanzanian shilling counts. Fruits and vegetables were bought from Swai, a rasta who had a stall outside Cash’n'Carry, who called me ‘sister’ and tolerated my butchering of Kiswahili (I usually ended up reverting to English after a few fumbled attempts).
I would then either walk home with my bounty, or if I felt lazy, catch the dala dala. I tried to minimise the time spent on dala dalas, because it felt like every time I got on one I was gambling with my life.
Southampton, United Kingdom, 2011
The first month or two I lived in Southampton, I would do my grocery shopping every few days, at a Tesco Express on my way home from work. And then I had a brainwave: the prices at Tesco Express are actually pretty similar to Waitrose, so I might as well shop at Waitrose. Again, it was usually Saturdays that I would walk to the Waitrose in Portswood, and pick up what I needed for the week. I cooked pretty much every night, because I had a lovely kitchen, and because I was unimpressed with the eating out options in Southampton. I also had fewer friends with whom I could go out and eat.
I continued the habits of cooking vegetarian, and discovered Quorn, an excellent vegetarian meat substitute. My shopping bag when I left Waitrose was usually full of organic fruit and vegetables, vegetarian protein sources, eggs, yoghurt (I miss the apple and cinnamon yoghurt SO MUCH) and the weekend Guardian newspaper. I would occasionally look at the contents on my shopping bag and think, “Jen, you are such a middle-class twat” – living in England clearly had an effect on my vocabulary.
Sydney, Australia, 2012
My routine back home is a lot less, well, routine-like. In Sydney, I have a lot more friends I can go out to eat with, more restaurants to choose from, and the option of going back to my parents’ to mooch dinner off my mum. I did a grocery shop this morning at Coles, and I don’t even know which nights this week I will be at home, and which nights I will be cooking. But I think I will let the contents of my fridge and pantry dictate the menu for this week, as well as when I need to be at home and cook.
Being at home should mean that everything is more familiar. And in some ways, many things are. But this whole responsible grown-up thing where I do grocery shopping feels more familiar in British pounds than it does in Australian dollars. Every time I am in Coles, I am reminded of Waitrose and a little part of me wishes I was back in that other home, that other life.