I think my community lives in fear that I will starve. Part of it is cultural, it’s part of Paraguayan culture to give your guest food and share everything you eat with the people sitting around you. But, the food I’m given goes above and beyond. People ask me what I eat regularly and are often surprised to hear I cooked my own lunch.
I don’t know why they’re surprised. If I was a good Paraguayan woman I’d already know how to cook. I guess it goes to show where I fall on the scale of Paraguayan women. Sometimes I think it’s because I live alone—one can’t simply cook for one can they?
I’m not complaining about Paraguayan generosity. It’s one of the things I love about living in here. Besides, recently I’ve been almost short on money—something about a Peace Corps salary and a run of bad luck. If I’m hard-working and visit people, I almost don’t need to cook or eat at home. I don’t go hungry, that’s for sure.
But, the free food comes with a small cost: I eat the food that my Paraguayan friends and contacts are eating. Which is to say, a lot of meat and bread and yucca and rice. Don’t get me wrong I like barque and yucca as much as the next girl, but even I have limits.
In Paraguay, food isn’t a meal unless it involves chunks of meat. This might be another reason why people don’t think I can cook. I don’t cook meat in my house. When I describe what I eat, they kind of give me this blank expression as though they are waiting to hear what I ate after my rice and vegetable stir fry. Nothing?
I was never a picky eater, and my time in Paraguay has made me less so. I’m an expert at eating things I don’t like, and not showing it. My community members bubble with enthusiasm every time we eat hot dogs or sausages. I just enjoy their happiness and I’m thankful for being invited to share a meal with them. But, I can’t help but think about the diet and what it’s doing to my body. My hair is thinner and duller. I’m sure could do enough exercise to burn all the calories. Is my face breaking out because I’m stressed or because of what I’m eating? No way to know.
I know what I cook is healthier than the standard Paraguayan menu, but I also don’t want to be cut off from something as important as eating with families. It’s a balance between eating what makes me feel good and tastes good and spending time with my Paraguayan friends. My Paraguayan friends always win.