I spent the first few months missing diet coke and salads as well as the junk food I'd come to love, while getting used to a diet of spicy, palm oil slicked soups with mystery meat chunks and heavy carbs in the form of fufu, banku, plantain and cassava.
Though I lived with a 'rare' middle class family in Ghana, I was shocked by how cheap it was to feed the family of 5 - 7 including my son and I. Nothing came from a supermarket (might have had something to do with the fact that there were no supermarkets), and almost everything was fresh and cooked from scratch. No processed foods (except for the ever-popular but nasty sodium laced Maggi cubes used in every soup and stew!). No snacks or junk food. Beer and coke were offered up on special occasions and were quite cheap as well. (Ghana still uses the refillable bottle system and families have a case of each at home which can be returned and filled again for quite a reasonable price).
I used to meet up with fellow volunteers on the weekends and take trips to the one store filled with foreign groceries - Kwatsons (which later became Koala). We'd walk up and down the aisles and marvel at the things we recognised and couldn't afford... Iceburg lettuce at $20 a head, Frosted Flakes at $15... but for the most part the things were just not available.
Today, my life as an expat is quite different, as is the availability of goods from around the world, in the cosmopolitan city of Accra. We have a mall, supermarkets, choices. My diet today is quite different. Lots of salads and diet coke when I want it. Our weekly food bill has also skyrocketed.
To live a true expat life in West Africa, enjoying all the food comforts of home will run you between $200 to $350 a week for a family of 3 or 4. That doesn't include nights out at restaurants which constitute the majority of social interactions.
Considering that close to 50% of Ghanaians earn about $1 a day, or $30 per month, our $1000 a month on food is indulgent at best, grotesque at worst.
It has always amazed me how people manage their money here - how they can feed their families with such little resources.
I found an amazingly intriguing glimpse into the food lives of others, courtesy the great bloggess Skinny Gourmet, and just had to share.
This excerpt is from a book called Hungry Planet - in which a sampling of families from around the world open their homes up and show us exactly what they consume in a given week. Each family is photographed with their entire weekly food/drinks spread in their kitchen, and the amount spent is recorded to the penny.
Fascinating. It says so much about culture, about wealth and poverty, about who we are and where we come from. I wonder how I'd feel displaying my weekly shopping in the same way?
Germany: The Melander family of Bargteheide
Food expenditure for one week: 375.39 Euros or $500.07
United States: The Revis family of North Carolina
Food expenditure for one week $341.98
Italy: The Manzo family of Sicily
Food expenditure for one week: 214.36 Euros or $260.11
Mexico: The Casales family of Cuernavaca
Food expenditure for one week: 1,862.78 Mexican Pesos or $189.09
Poland: The Sobczynscy family of Konstancin-Jeziorna
Food expenditure for one week: 582.48 Zlotys or $151.27
Egypt: The Ahmed family of Cairo
Food expenditure for one week: 387.85 Egyptian Pounds or $68.53
Ecuador: The Ayme family of Tingo
Food expenditure for one week: $31.55
Bhutan: The Namgay family of Shingkhey Village
Food expenditure for one week: 224.93 ngultrum or $5.03
Chad: The Aboubakar family of Breidjing Camp
Food expenditure for one week: 685 CFA Francs or $1.23
So many things are striking - the sheer cost of living in Germany, the massive prevalence of process and take-away foods in America, the absence of all processed foods in Egypt and Bhutan and the glaring poverty of the family in Chad with just over $1 a week to feed a family of six.
Next time you head to the Piggly Wiggly or Safeway or Tescos or Pick n' Pay, think of this exercise. Where do you fit in?