America, Land of the Free ... Food

The author of this essay is a Romanian journalist who is spending six months in the United States as a visiting fellow at the Monitor. He recently shopped at an American supermarket for the first time and found it was something to write home about.MY Dear A., Remember our conversations, when we imagined the United States as a calm, peaceful country, and we foresaw that my stay here would be a good opportunity to escape for a while the tumultuous period Romania is facing? We were both wrong. Another revolution is about to reach its peak here. You may not believe it, but a new liberation movement is arising. To their honor, the Americans never cease struggling to enlarge their freedoms. I'm not talking about the freedom of the press, which, as the Gulf war proved, is fully enjoyed by American journalists. I'm not talking about women's freedom to choose whether they should have an abortion. No, it's something completely different: It's food freedom. I hope a brief description of my first encounter with a supermarket will reveal my point. I must confess I was not alone the first time I entered such a store. My memories from Piata Amzei, the food market where I used to shop in Bucharest, were present: the sweet flavor of strawberries, the perfume of melons, the bouquet of the golden apples, the overwhelming colors of the rainbow at the flower market, the high-pitched shouting of peasants praising their sunrise vegetables, the milkfat white of cream pots and homemade cheese, the juicy red of the lamb hanging near fat-bellied pickle barrels. Piata Amzei was a unique melting-pot of sensations, capturing your eyes, piercing your nose, filling your ears, and emptying out your pockets. When I first entered a grocery store here, it was like walking inside a huge, shining, antiseptic refrigerator. An amazing diversity of labels under a discreet, uniform light suddenly disoriented me. My eyes, flirting with every detail of this abundant panorama, were not trustworthy. My ears, seduced by the sweet, serene music coming from nowhere, were useless, so I asked my nose to guide me. I hurried to a box of strawberries which, judging by their size and color, should have been twice as tasty as the ones in Romania. With my nose crushed against the plastic grill, I inhaled. Surprise: No scent at all! I put them away and rushed for a melon, this time smelling cautiously from a palm's width away. Useless precaution: The melon's odor was as strong as a stone's. I ran for the apples, and I chose a huge, shiny one. It had a crystal-mirror brightness. I could use it to improve my commercial smile, but I wanted to eat a good, tasty fruit, not attend a beauty contest. So, I finally decided to buy tempting peaches. The minute I left the store I had a large bite. Alas! The peach was bland! The more I explored the supermarket, the more I realized that flavor was not the only thing chased from the food paradise. I love fresh, sweet, and creamy cow's milk, the kind that makes children from my sister's village look like rosy-cheeked puppies. Here, I had to choose between 1 percent fat milk and nonfat milk. The ham was an easier choice: either 80 percent fat-free, or 96 percent. I should have chosen the second; it was, obviously, freer. Yes, my friend, day after day, food becomes more and more emancipated here. The food liberation movement grows bigger and bigger. Sugar is calorie-free, coffee is caffeine-free, salt is sodium-free. Sorry? You're asking me what's left? What's sugar good for, without sweetness? Or salt, if it's not salty? I don't know, ask the scientists! They should be satisfied that people are not eating, but nourishing their bodies. It's rational and, apparently, they think it will help you live longer. It may be a tas teless life, but there is a price to be paid for everything. Remember the transition period and unemployment in Romania! Get used to it, you'll have to accept it. Tasty food is an old Balkan delight, but don't stick to it, it's not fashionable. Besides, we want to become a real democracy, right? Why should we oppress food by asking it to remain natural? We should allow it to evolve, to make progress, yes, to become emancipated, to enjoy its civil rights, right? After all, we can afford a small delay for minorities' rights or job opportunities, but not for the freedom of food. It's a noble and generous cause we should all fight for. I'm confidently waiting for the day of the final victory, the day when food will be food-free. That day will belong to us: Just fill some big cans with fresh, juicy, calorie-rich Romanian mountain air. We'll make a fortune on the American food market. I'm sure the Japanese will be jealous. Yours fatfully,

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