Friday, March 21, 2014

Provisions for a Picky Eater

My African ancestors apparently came from regions in the rain forest where the tse tse fly makes it difficult to raise dairy animals.  Senegal however is part of the dry Sahel region bordering on the Sahara desert where herding sheep, goats, and cattle provides important food sources.  As a lactose intolerant vegetarian, finding provisions abroad has always been difficult.  In 1988 I was supposed to spend the year as an English language teaching assistant in a Parisian lycée (high school) but after three weeks of searching for an affordable place to live I had exhausted my peanut butter reserves so I gave up and came home.  This time around I came with a 30-day supply of nut butters in individual packets and a two-week supply of home baked graham crackers.  

I had not eaten white flour in years but when the crackers ran out, I resorted to buying French baguettes from street corner stands like this one:

None of these stands looks very clean and it is almost certain that by the time you get your baguette home, an army of flies will have walked on it.

“Your diet will change,” predicted my friend and colleague, Michael and it has – but only in having to accept conventional rather than organic fare.  In the most affluent areas of Dakar, the French grocery chain, Casino, does offer some organic products so I trek there from Saint Louis to stock up on muesli, organic tomato sauce, organic unsweetened soy milk, and organic whole wheat pasta.  Fresh organic produce is unheard of.  Nothing much grows during the rainy season, which lasts through July, August, and September so the selection of fresh produce was rather limited when I arrived.  I was able to get conventionally grown apples and carrots even though most of them are flown in from South Africa.  Now that the weather is cooler, there is a wider variety of produce available.  I have bought eggplant, lettuce, radishes, peppers, cucumbers, and green beans. 

 Green beans, peppers, and onions with rotini

Although I brought organic beans, rice, and quinoa, I wasn’t able to prepare any meals with them until we moved into our apartment.  This is the first hot meal I prepared after we got our stove and refrigerator hooked up:

 Beans and rice on a bed of lettuce

Our stove is kind of scary.  It connects to a tank of propane gas.   

You open the tank, turn on the burners or the oven, and then use a match to light them.  I had always been afraid of lighting matches before but I have acquired the knack here. 

Senegal is a major exporter of peanuts so they are plentiful everywhere and many street corner vendors sell grilled cashews and salt roasted peanuts.  Unfortunately American-style peanut butter is not common.  I found some 100% peanut paste in a shop that caters to expatriates here in Saint Louis.  It didn’t taste like any peanut butter I had eaten before. 

Still it isn’t bad in peanut butter and honey sandwiches.  While the Zena company produces a variety of jellies and jams with local fruits, they are all made with sugar so I probably won’t get to have a proper peanut butter and jelly sandwich until I get back home.

 Peanut butter on Wassa crackers with apples and carrots


  1. For you, I miss the comforts of home and what we take for granted.


  2. Thanks for sharing this information. I had no idea. I doubt I would last a day. Never realized how spoilt I am until reading this post. And to think that I was lamenting that I did not have any chocolate ice cream sandwiches at home.