It really didn’t occur to me that living in the United States, the land of obesity, was like living through a famine.

While visiting my parents for a few weeks, I realized a sad plummet in my normal diet happened right “under my nose.”

My body didn’t know I went from the third-world country of Costa Rica, to the rich and plentiful fields of North America. All it understood is that I went from supplying it with several servings of fresh fruits and vegetables every day, to eating a shockingly limited diet, high in carbohydrates and low in antioxidants. I witnessed affects on my body–migraines, acne, moodiness, lethargy, eczema– all which make it all too clear that we are actually starving ourselves in the States.

A New Way of Living

In an average week in Costa Rica, my family (of three eaters) went through more than two dozen oranges, mangoes, and bananas, a few melons, pineapples and coconuts, just to name a few fruits. We ate free-range eggs every morning and had a dinner packed with vegetables alongside fresh chicken each night. We also ate home-made whole wheat bread–is there anything more satisfying than warm, baked bread?

This diet is not a diet; it’s a way of living.

[quote_box_right]For tips on navigating Costa Rican grocery stores and fresh markets, check out A Costa Rica Retiree Explores the Food Aisles.[/quote_box_right]

It is good, healthy food at our fingertips all the time. When we went out, we shared a delicious casado, which is a huge tray of rice and beans, balanced with meat, plantains, and a small salad. While there are fast food chains in the bigger cities, we did’t have the option to eat at them in our small town, even though we wouldn’t if we could. With so much affordable home-grown produce, meats, and dairy products, why would we eat anything else?

 

Mind you, these foods are certainly available in the States, but it costs much more to eat well. For example, I paid 1000 colones, or $2 for three cantaloupes at the market in Grecia, Costa Rica. Back in the States, I visited our nearest Wegman’s to find that one melon costs $3! Could this be possible? Mangoes there were two for $4, when I could buy a whole sack of them for that much in a third-world country. I understand that we are paying an import tax for these fruits, but I think there are other hidden costs involved. Perhaps food businesses think only well-to-do citizens eat well? Perhaps they’d rather feed us “fake-food” (in my opinion), full of fake-sugar, fake-flavoring, and other I-Can’t-Believe-It’s-Not real foods.

Dangerous Habits

I realized the all too serious fact that while we in the States have so many more options than a typical third-world-country, we eat a less varied and less natural diet. Our produce sections go passed by for the boxed and plastic bag-dotted aisles full of dangerous ingredients. So much money is poured into marketing these false-foods, that we’ve forgotten what “healthy eating” really is. It is not the microwaveable diet meal that promises to make you lose fifty pounds. It is not the diet drinks, nor the power drinks. If you want a real “power drink,” drill a hole into a young coconut and enjoy.

We are filling our bodies with junk, instead of fueling it with food found in nature. It took me leaving the country to really see the horror going on in the States, and in the other rich countries of the world. Far too much is spent on expensive marketing schemes to trick our citizens into buying and consuming knock-off food products. Where are the raw coconut commercials, or the mango ads? I suppose they do not need any advertising, since people don’t need convincing that they are “good” for them.

What’s to learn?

What I learned over a few months in Costa Rica and during our brief visit home in Maryland is that although Americans have the luxury of buying whatever food they want, they are so strongly encouraged by their environment to eat a simple and unnatural diet. It’s odd to consider that anyone’s eating habits would greatly improve upon leaving such a super power as the United States. In my own experience, a body in Central America is exposed to a much more colorful and nutritious selection of foods, that it’s as if it’s moved to an even richer state. It appears to me we North Americans need to remove the blind fold, brush the artificial foods aside, and return to eating what has always been provided to us by nature.

[quote_box_center]She’s a mother, blogger, and world traveler. Now Emily R-P Shea is the first columnist of our new section “The Great Escape” featuring articles written by a small handful of US expats who have some amazing stories to tell. From why they chose to live in Costa Rica to how to raise a more eco-friendly baby, The Great Escape will be a great reference as well as fascinating entertainment for all travelers who find themselves in paradise.[/quote_box_center]