“A breakfast bowl with chia, organic pumpkin seeds, AND sheep’s milk delivered here in high-tech containers that enhance its nutrients ALL the way from New Zealand?! I’ll take that one!,” I exclaimed, wide-eyed and completely in awe of the menu choices spread before me. Paul and I were in a San Francisco cafe, enjoying one last visit with family before we hopped on a plane to Tbilisi, Georgia.
Ever since leaving Kentucky, we had been bouncing around for a few weeks visiting friends and family, making it difficult to maintain a consistent, healthy diet. I figured that this one breakfast bowl would surely make up for the late-night hamburger and chili cheese fries run I had made in my hometown of Portsmouth, NH, along with the uptick in alcohol consumption that accompanies reuniting with old friends. With every spoonful of the chilled, creamy concoction, I imagined the cells in my body were exploding with pink unicorns representing health and goodness.
Welcome to Georgia – Land of the Carbohydrate
Fast forward one month. Paul and I tuck into a homemade breakfast at a local Georgian winery. The matriarch of the family has proven herself to be a culinary force – we had been gorging ourselves on her traditional Georgian dishes for a few days now. I wait in anticipation for what I know will be arriving at the table in no time – Imeretian Khachapuri – a delectable Promised Land of cheese and bread. The steaming hot pie comes in different regional varieties, and is a staple dish in Georgia.
After an unofficial taste-test that I had been conducting with disturbing vigor, this woman’s Khachapuri won first prize. I wondered what made hers SO delicious, such a perfect combination of fluffiness and gooeyness. I can’t say with absolute certainty, but I am guessing butter has something to do with it. During our stay I caught a glimpse of freshly made Khachapuri emerging from the oven, when I witnessed AN ENTIRE STICK OF BUTTER being slathered lovingly atop the pie, causing it to glisten enticingly in the sunlight. My health radars instantly sounded – I was not sure if I should be eating what felt like a pound of bread, cheese, and butter every day. Fortunately, and probably far too easily, I managed to quiet these concerns. When was the next time I would be in Georgia on a family vineyard indulging in some of the country’s best food? I figured I might as well suck it down and worry about it later.
Both in 2015, when Paul and I traveled in central and eastern Europe for six weeks, and now in Georgia, we have noticed behavioral similarities regarding food and health, mainly that in comparison to the United States, the average citizen seems considerably less obsessive about them.
There are likely many social, cultural, and economic reasons for this. Much of America’s health and wellness industry is dominated by choices that can only be easily accessed by the privileged. In comparison to the United States, Georgia is not a wealthy country. Far less people have the disposable income to spend on products such as gluten-free flour and almond milk, if they even have access to these items in the first place. Other factors could include a population’s perspectives on what it means to be healthy, what food is considered to be healthy, as well as differing beauty ideals.
In the United States, one is bombarded with an onslaught of neverending health and wellness remedies. Fats were bad in the nineties, then it was about calorie counting, followed up by eliminating carbs and increasing protein intake, and today whole foods are in and sugar is out. All of this and our obesity rates still soar, along with the high prevalence of eating disorders. In Georgia, Paul and I have noticed less extremes when it comes to people’s bodies. It’s far less common to see a severely obese person or someone who is rocking emaciated-chic. I have no doubt that both ends of the spectrum exist here, but they don’t seem pervasive.
Embracing the Bread
What I love about traveling is that you have to relinquish control of many ingrained beliefs, including those about food, or you are going to drive yourself crazy. This is particularly true in Georgia, where carbohydrates, salt, and meat are culinary heavyweights. You can manage to avoid them, but it takes some effort and you may end up offending a gracious Georgian host who has spent the last two hours toiling over her signature meat Khinkali (pork dumplings with soup broth). Also, it would be a grave mistake, because the food here is immensely satisfying and delicious.
For an American woman who is a self-professed exercise junkie and most certainly not immune to societal pressures, this situation could be anxiety-inducing, but I’ve actually found it to be refreshing. It’s hard to ignore the constant barrage of in-your-face nutrition and exercise trends in America, so-much-so that the process of choosing food and trying to enjoy it can seem like a chore. In Georgia, where NOT eating carbohydrates daily would be abnormal, I feel a little more liberated.
In addition, with the alteration in our dietary habits, Paul and I have also observed a change in our bodies. Shockingly, we both seem to have lost body fat. We are perplexed by this phenomenon, but our fairly uneducated guess is it likely can be attributed to a combination of a less sedentary lifestyle, our gym membership, minimal stress, and less preservatives. Then again, this could all be a grand delusion that we are feeding ourselves. I’m not asking too many questions; I’m going with it.
A Smorgasbord of Satisfaction
To be honest, I think I have reached a peak of carb-consumption while in Georgia that I may never again attain. The other day I picked up two loaves of piping hot bread baked in a tone (a tandoor-style oven) and realized I had absentmindedly eaten half a loaf while walking back to our apartment. My vitamin levels may not be optimal right now, but my happiness sure is!
Paul and I have nine days remaining in Georgia and then we are off to Dubai. In all likelihood, I will probably try to reduce my carb consumption and up my vegetable intake once we leave. I am almost positive that when we finally get back to the States, I will revert back to smoothies, salads, and whole foods, I am a middle class American white woman, after all. For now, I am going to savor our last days eating authentic Georgian food, including these ubiquitous and cheap bread-oriented snacks.
This is my absolute favorite breaded delight – smashed kidney bean filling wrapped in a buttery bread pocket. I refer to it as a Georgian burrito, and it fulfills my occasional craving for Mexican food, which is nonexistent in this country.
Exhibit A: Enough said.
Buttery bread with mashed potatoes and a hot dog (aka, the Double Carb Whammy)
The title says it all. Genius!