A Move Overseas Opened My Eyes (Reader Story)

This is a reader story by Kimberly Kochanny who lives in North Carolina and is a mom of two young children. She loves to cook, so for work, she does a lot of dishes. She also loves to read cookbooks like they are novels, with endless cups of tea, when her kids go to bed at night. If you’d like to submit your own real food story, you can do so here.

It all started for me when my husband was offered a global deployment opportunity in Scotland. Never mind that I was seven months pregnant and had a two-year-old daughter, I was stir crazy in the thick of life as a stay-at-home mom and said, “sign us up.” Three short months later, we were on a plane for a two-year assignment.

In all of my preparation for leaving, I never really considered the food. The only food related thought that crossed my mind while packing was “I really hate to throw out all my spice jars. Spices are so expensive, but surely I can’t store them for 2 years!” All the spices ended up going to a neighbor.

A Wake-Up Call

We arrived in Scotland with two small children and a dog in tow, and I will never forget the first time I went grocery shopping. I literally bought a few apples, a box of oatmeal, and a bag of flour. I was dazed and confused walking up and down the aisles of the quaint little grocery store in our new neighborhood, and I had a sinking realization that all the food I bought on autopilot every week was gone. I had a moment of panic, and then, after eating oatmeal for dinner, realized I was going to have to get it together if I was going to feed my family for the next two years!

A Move Overseas Opened My Eyes - Reader Story on 100 Days of Real Food

I thought I ate pretty healthy before we moved. I used Earth Balance buttery spread instead of butter, the “natural” JIF peanut butter, and just the regular yellow box of Cheerios (definitely not the Honey Nut). What I didn’t realize was that I was still using all processed foods with a laundry list of ingredients. I had to start over.

Relearning How to Cook and Eat

I checked out cookbooks from the local library, started reading food blogs from places like Denmark, Switzerland, and Australia, and basically realized there is a whole world out there outside the aisles and aisles of American packaged fare that passes as food.

I signed up for a local CSA and learned that the Scots can survive those cold, dark, rainy days because they grow and eat a ton of hearty root vegetables. I had to reinvent all my favorites from scratch because I was in a country where some of my usual ingredients couldn’t even be found.

Instead of Cheerios, I made homemade granola with rolled barley and oat flakes from the corner health food shop. Instead of Earth Balance, real butter from the farmer’s market took its place. My high-speed blender found a permanent spot on my countertop for homemade almond butter, sauces, and soups. And I was on a first-name basis with the owner of the artisan rye bread bakery.

Long Term Change

I saw a lot of memorable things during my time in Scotland, but I will always, always appreciate the way it opened my eyes to food and how much more we need to pay attention. I have been back in the states now for a year, and I have continued to think about each and every item I am putting in my cart, always reading the ingredient labels and understanding where that food came from. I actually bought a box of yellow Cheerios on one of my first grocery shopping trips back in the states just because I thought I’d missed them. But the funny thing is, they sat in the pantry for so long they grew stale, and I tossed them out.

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19 thoughts on “A Move Overseas Opened My Eyes (Reader Story)”

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  1. My husband and I moved out to Scotland and we also experienced a huge foodie wake-up call! Living in Scotland is where I learned to cook and learned all about produce and farm-to-table eating. When we came back to the States, it was really hard to be able to afford the same quality we were getting over there. We’ve since made changes to go back to what we loved about healthy living there, especially as prices are dropping on unrefined foods and Farmer’s Markets becoming all the rage in my area.

  2. Yes!! Living in India then china and now turkey has made me depend more and more on seasonal fresh produce and farmers markets … it’s so expensive to import! But My miswest home recipes of cream of x casseroles and instant rice and xyz processed foods went out the window… I used to crave and miss certain products and stock up when we visited the us once a year but the last two years couldn’t even think of anything to bring…. fresh and from scratch is just so much better!

  3. I can’t wait to travel overseas someday to see the differences and similarities to our food sources and sustainability!

  4. I am living in California, and I had the same realization with the guest blogger. Before, I wasn’t that picky with the foods that I’m eating but then as I have grown in age, I realized those unhealthy and good for nothing food I’ve been consuming.
    All these realization was also triggered when I last traveled to South America where I volunteered in a local farm in Peru. All the produce that is being served on the table where totally fresh and purely organic (entirely chemical free) since I have seen how they grow their vegetations.
    Literally, there’s more to packs of sausages, cans of GMO’s, and boxes of processed carbs if you just only explore and get alternatives outside from your usual diet.
    I will definitely trade all those silent and “too good to be true” delish from something that can benefit my body and overall vitality.

  5. Living in Qatar for about 9 months a few years ago was what kick-started my cooking/real foods adventure. I could get many of the same things we had in the U.S. but they tasted different and weren’t always very fresh because they were shipped from so far away. After the second experience of finding ants in my box of Kashi cereal I went online to all recipes.com and found a recipe for homemade cereal. I was shocked at how easy it was to make, and it actually tasted better than what I was eating before!

    Sadly, as Qatar brought more and more Western food and restaurants in (KFC, Krispy Kreme, McDonald’s, etc) they saw more problems like diabetes emerge as well. I haven’t kept up with the news there so I don’t know if the people/government are addressing the issue but it’s an interesting case study in what happens when people adopt a “Western” diet.

  6. I hear you, I love cooking and really watch what I eat. I don’t eat processed meat AT ALL. I think the problem today is people are all in a hurry and just don’t take the time to cook and sit at a table and enjoy the time to talk. I have also noticed while shopping for groceries what people have in their carts and, I shake my head because, it is either already made, processed or just plain junk food. So sad. I actually talked a woman who asked me to take a small package of celery down from the shelf because she couldn’t reach it. at a price of $2.47 and the package had approx. 10 small pieces of cut up celery. I told her it was expensive and why wouldn’t she buy a whole fresh bunch of celery for $1.97 and wash it and cut it up herself. Proud to say she listened. Are people that lazy that they can’t cut up celery? So sad.

  7. I’m not trying to rain on the parade, however I’ve been living in Switzerland for almost 30 years and unfortunately here, in recent years, the supermarkets are headed down the same convenience route as the USA with processed foods. There’s a demand and it’s being filled. It’s nowhere near the same amount and there may not be as many brands or items available but new processed items are popping up regularly on their shelves. I think a big difference is the Swiss (maybe even European) laws and regulations, such as artificial colors are no longer allowed, only plant based colors for instance and their strict(er) regulations on things like hormones given to animals, the restrained use of GMO ‘s, etc.

    I’m a label reader because my son has celiac disease. When he went gluten free very little was available so I had to go with “real food” and cook everything from scratch. Since then we’ve joined a local CSA and we’ve gone almost 100% organic where possible.

    But those who want to live on processed, ready made food and even fast food restaurants here very well could, they just wouldn’t have the vast choice as in the U.S.

  8. I can so relate to this story! We moved to the other side of the world to Sydney Australia several years ago and grocery shopping was such a chore when I first moved. None of the same brands I was used to, everything in Kilos so trying to figure out pricing was also a challenge. I also signed up for a CSA and it was one of the best things! It is so much easier to eat healthier in other parts of the world when you don’t aisles and aisles of processed unhealthy foods. Not that they didn’t have any, but it was so limited compared to the USA. I’m back in the US now and miss Australia, but it did teach me better habits, and I cook much more often at home now then before we moved.

  9. A thousand times, YES! I’ve been living in England for the past two years and the food is so much better. Sure, there is loads of processed and sugary foods here but the list of ingredients is 7 instead of 70, for example. You can actually read and pronounce what’s on the labels.

    I do not miss 45 choices of peanut butter, most of which are so sugar-laden I wouldn’t eat them anyway! Moving back will be tough from a food quality standpoint, for sure.

  10. Kimberly,
    This is exactly what happened when our family moved to a small Bavarian village. My eyes were opened to the US food systems vs. the rest of the world. It amazed me that certain product, were only available while in season. It was amazing. It cut down on our grocery expenses and we ate real food, almost all the time. We were healthier and had more energy. We moved back to NC in 2010, and these changes have stuck with our family…well most of them. We are deliberate about what we will and won’t eat…and long for the days we get to travel in the EU again; where food is fresh and real. Thanks for sharing! Meg

  11. I’m curious as I’m not yet very good at reading real food… What, if any, health benefits did you see by such a dramatic shift? Just wondering generalizations here, not asking for anything personal or private. I’m just wondering if it really made a difference or if ‘real food’ is just the new fad. Thanks for the info! I’m a single mom with 2 kids and want to do best for all of us.

    1. I have found that I feel better and have more energy when eating real food. I have had three kids since the switch to real food and I have found it easy to lose the baby weight and keep it off. Good luck in your real food endeavors!

  12. I moved to Canada 5 1/2 years ago from the UK and was horrified when I discovered whipping cream was not just whipping cream but whipping cream plus a whole host of extra things I had never heard of! it is not that the UK is that much better but I find I have to look a lot closer here.

  13. I have been living overseas for about 14 years now and each time I go back for a visit to the U.S. I am amazed at how much processed food my friends and family eat thinking that it is “healthy” and how “made from scratch” is almost nonexistent. I am so grateful for learning and having to cook from scratch and all of the “real” food I am able to get at the stores and open air markets. I will dearly miss this if we ever move!

  14. Kimberly, we just moved to another country (Costa Rica) and are experiencing the exact same thing. It took a while to find our new groove, but I will say that my little stack of handwritten recipe cards of all the new foods I’ve learned to make from scratch is something I am very proud of! I’ve also been shocked at how open my kids have been to trying new foods once all their regular, processed snacks aren’t available. In my wildest dreams I wouldn’t have imagined them enjoying a vegetable curry, but here we are. Thanks for the great post!

  15. I was just marveling at the variety of fresh local produce at our markets, but here in the south of France it doesn’t freeze and the farmers can grow things all year. That said, the selection is heavy on root vegetables, and I have been making an effort to find new ways to cook them. And greens like Swiss chard. I put up this recipe for Swiss chard packets with cream and cheese and onions inside. It’s delish. https://francetaste.wordpress.com/2017/02/17/pillows-of-swiss-chard-bliss

    1. I just looked at your recipe and it looks so cute and delicious! But I was wondering – what temperature do you get the oven to when you pop them in for the 15 minutes?