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The Daily Tar Heel

Make food your deciding factor

When choosing where to study abroad one must weigh the many options carefully. The plethora of cities, countries or regions in which to spend a summer, semester or perhaps a year abroad affords us — as students at the greatest university ever — the privilege to be choosy.

Pertinent questions when choosing where to study may include: What language do they speak there? Do I speak that language? What is the weather like? Can I live in that weather without air conditioning or heating for months at a time? Would I prefer to get run over by a rickshaw or a bus? Or, am I comfortable going to the bathroom in a hole? Just to name a few.

Obviously, I left off the most important question, which is: What do they eat there?

With so many programs around the world your study abroad experience can be a culinary delight or, if you are like me and cannot pick just one country, a study in contrasting delights.

Yes. For some strange reason I picked India and Argentina — two countries to live in that are not only on the opposite side of the world from each other but also have opposite climates, social conventions on PDA (one country where holding hands with the opposite sex is taboo and another where kissing is the most appropriate form of greeting) and almost completely distinct diets.

And diet can tell us much about a culture.

So when I went to India this summer and saw cows roaming the streets with impunity, leaving “presents” for everyone to step in (side note: Everyone wears flip-flops), but ate largely sauce-based vegetarian fare and only got to whet my appetite for bovine (brain) once, I learned about the important non-food roles that cattle play in India. I also learned that to keep more people fed in a country of more than a billion one may have to settle for a little less meat and a lot more lentils.

Likewise, when I came to Argentina, I found beef as a part of nearly every meal — sometimes as part of both appetizer and main course — often accompanied by pasta. I found out both how vital beef is to the national economy and just how many Italians actually immigrated to and influenced Argentina.

Finding peanuts (but not peanut butter, tragically), bananas, ketchup, Coca-Cola, potato chips and chocolate widely available and popular in various places in both countries told me something about the universality of these products.
Now these are just a couple of basic differences that I have noticed and what I have learned from them.

I could go on about how spicy and delicious some Indian dishes are, especially when combined with the best bread I have ever scooped my curry with.

I could write poetry about the smoked and juicy deliciousness of an obscenely large Argentine steak and how well it goes with the high-quality wine made of grapes grown literally down the street.

But I do not want to make you too jealous.

So next time you are in Lenoir or Ram’s Head — and believe me, I can hear the complaining from here — take a moment to think of what that food says about our culture.

_Kyle Olsen is a Guest Columnist for The Daily Tar Heel. He is a junior International Studies major from Stafford, VA. Email him at _

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