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Food

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The food that is locally available or provided for you may be radically different from what you are used to. At first you may enjoy the novelty of this but there may be a stage at which it begins to lose its appeal. Even if you enjoy the food, it may pose challenges to your body as it adjusts to the different diet. Think about talking to your doctor about dietary supplements to take with you to the field.

Make sure that you have access to some sort of familiar/comfort foods. If you know about the local diet, try eating it exclusively for a week or more and see how your body, and your spirits, respond. If you dislike it or cannot readily digest the food you are likely to be living off, consider how you will manage the situation.

Questions you need to know the answers to:

  • What is the local diet?
  • Can I handle it? If not, how will I manage that?
  • Who will do my cooking?
  • What equipment / supplies will I need? How will I get them?
  • How will I maintain supplies of my comfort food? What is a realistic supply?

I enjoyed a wide range of local foods prepared by the women in the village on my first visit of two weeks in the village in PNG and returned for an extended trip expecting to eat the same way (I only had one block of chocolate for backup for a period of several months!). On the extended trip my husband and I cooked for ourselves – and proved to be much less skilled in dealing with locally available ingredients. It also emerged that I got headaches from eating taro – the local staple. For the first two months I lost a kilo per week. Alternative arrangements had to be made (and substantial amounts of chocolate were involved).

-- Tonya Stebbins

On my first trip, I did not listen to locals in town when they told me I should buy lots of supplies from the supermarket before going to the village. I said that I would just eat what people in the village would cook for me from local ingredients -- and so I had to eat boiled fish with boiled bananas for two weeks; the sago bread that came with it tasted like a mixture of rubber and cardboard. On subsequent trips, I always came back from town with several boxes of supplies which I would prepare on my own small gas stove. Pasta with honey soy chicken from a tin can be so delicious…

-- Gerd Jendraschek

The people I lived with in Taiwan are traditionally hunters, so they eat almost any animals. Most of them are quite edible and many of them are really nice. Pigs were a problem, though, mainly because they thought it was very healthy to cook the intestines with their contents in some kind of bitter soup. I ate this once, in a small village up in the mountains. On our way back I had a very painful time and when we arrived home I was the first to sprint to the toilet!

-- Rik de Busser