3 Dec 2004 349

Reality Bites: Financing food eats away at an Armenian in America

By Julia Hakobyan
ArmeniaNow Reporter

My first lunch in the United States was the beginning of four weeks study of
whether Americans enjoy American food.
After my stay the question remains unanswered. But it took only one meal to
figure out this: Eating out would leave me both hungry and broke.
Food in America always looks perfect. It does not taste perfect. The price
is far from perfect!
Hunger and the desire to try the nice-looking things in nice plastic plates
in the Duke University cafeteria prevailed over the thrift of an Armenian
woman and my first meal was a lettuce salad with tomatoes, and turkey
sandwich. The salad portion was impressively large and I asked if I can have
the small one.
"This one is small. That's the big one," the cook said pointing to a forest
of salad that could satisfy at least two hungry Armenian men's bellies.
Another truth learned: American food is always in huge portions.

The price for a "small" salad and sandwich with no smell and no taste? $15.
Do you know how much lettuce, tomato, bread, turkey, I could buy in Yerevan
for 7,500 drams?
More surprises awaited when I made my first trip to a market. And "trip" is
exactly what it was. From my Yerevan apartment I need only to walk outside
to find the street filled with food merchants. In Durham, North Carolina,
the nearest market to me was 15 minutes by car.
As soon as I entered the shop I realized that probably two hours are not
enough to go through the store.
The fruits and vegetables of all sorts, size, and colors available on the
planet Earth could be found at that store, which later I found out was one
of the smallest markets in Durham.
It took me 10 minutes to choose bread among dozens and another 10 minutes
for buying tomatoes and apples. When I was going to buy more I saw my German
"Don't buy much," she said. "I saw the rest of our guys and they are not
happy with that food either. We want to find out where we can buy the real
"The real?" I asked confusingly. "What's wrong with this food?"
"Have not you realized that this food," she claimed showing at the loaf of
bread "is not of good quality. It is genetically modified."
I vaguely recalled reports of the Euro News we watched in Yerevan about the
efforts of the EU to reduce the genetically modified product on the European
I put the bread back.
"We now are going to find a whole food store, where we can buy organic
food," she said and seeing that I did not get the meaning of "organic"
added: "The vegetables and fruits that come from farms."
I looked at the beautiful apples and peaches around. They looked very real.
Maybe too perfect, but still real.
I did not ask my German friend where these fruits come from, but just
imagined hothouses resembling hives but with robots instead of bees pouring
the fruits which grow without sun light in plastic boxes with genetic
additives instead of water.
I joined the group in seeking out organic food. On the way to the market the
Europeans were complaining of American fast food and that the government
does not care that many Americans become fat because of that food.
"I thought Americans are fat because all the time they eat snacks and
chips," I said.
"No, the truth is that they eat snacks and chips which are made of
genetically modified corn and potatoes," I was told.
After an hour of driving we finally found a market which was called, just
like I heard: "Whole Food"
When I entered the market, I had a feeling of being in Armenia, at the Pak
Shuka of Yerevan.
The foodstuff looked very natural. As proof that these vegetables and fruits
grew from the earth, there was soil on them.
What I saw next, was nothing like the Prospect market: Three potatoes were
priced at $1.88! One loaf of bread, $7!
As I had left my bread in the genetically modified market I took a loaf of
"organic" bread. Also three potatoes, two cucumbers, greens, cheese, and
paprika and later hardly restrained myself from taking them back to the
counter when I was told to pay $16!!!!
My group was waiting for me outside and each had at least 20 paper bags of
foodstuff. They looked at my only bag with surprise and asked why I bought
so little.
"I did not buy more because it was very expensive for me," I answered,
"Is food in Armenia less expensive?" they asked me.
"Compared to the prices in the whole market, it is free."
"So, probably your food too is badly genetically modified?"
"Look," I said, "The Armenian farmers even don't know what it is. They have
no money to buy the chemical fertilizers and the only thing they use to make
trees grow better is dung, which they have for free."
The group was very intrigued with the truth about Armenian vegetables and
started asking questions about Armenian markets, about prices and Armenian
"You stated that potato was incredibly expensive," a German reporter said as
if he set up a hypothesis. "So, how many potatoes you will buy in Armenia,
let's say for...hmm. two dollars?"
The group eagerly awaited my answer.
I could lie to them, saying that I can buy twenty kilos. But we all were
reporters and as you know reporters do not lie, at least to each other.
Besides some of them could come Yerevan some day and see the reality.
So, I decided to tell them the truth.
"Ten kilos"
At one moment Armenia turned from the developing poor country with unclear
media landscape into a country of their dream.
The stories of the fertile Armenian land bewitched my colleagues, the group
of people from megalopolitans, some of whom believed that the diary products
are being produced in the markets.
I told them that the apricots in Armenia are as sweet as honey, that we can
drive for 15 minutes from the downtown of the city to reach the nearest
village, where we can see the real fruits on real trees.
I said that all people in Armenia have at least 10 relatives in villages and
that in summer we often go to visit them and can gather the organic harvest
I told that Armenian wine "Areni" for $4 is no worse that the French
Bordeaux for $40 and that for $4 you can buy so much fruit in summer that
you hardly can carry it.
When I came back to Yerevan the first story I told to my colleagues in our
newsroom was the story of the "whole" food. However one of my colleagues was
not impressed with the story of American potato and said that in Armenia the
potato is also genetically modified.
"How is possible that Armenian farmers get the genetically modified seeds?"
I asked.
"Americans brought them within the framework of humanitarian aid," she said.
The next day I bought a kilo of potatoes. For 20 cents.
I don't know where that potato came from, if it grew from American seeds or
But it was very good. It smelled like potato and tasted like potato. Very
real. Very organic. Like potato for $1.88 from the Whole Food Market of