As much as I find Journey's song "Don't Stop Believin'" to be redundant, I've also always felt a deep connection with it. Growing up in West Virginia I felt like that small town girl, who wanted to hop on a train going anywhere. With a lot of hard work (and student loans) I made it to the big city of Washington, DC. I have absolutely loved my time here so far, but there have been sporadic moments in which the culture shock has made me want to run back to my cozy hometown of 3,000 people. The funny thing is that all of these moments of culture shock were about food.
The Culture Shock Hits
My first big moment of culture shock came during one of the first times I went to eat at my university's dining hall. It was Meatless Monday, which was a culture shock in and of itself, but even more shocking was the fact that they were serving falafel. When I read the name of falafel, I cracked up laughing while self-consciously wondering, “what the *expletive* is falafel?” I have always been a foodie, but it was the first time in my life that I felt like I didn’t know food. Everyone at my school knew the different types of Indian, Lebanese and Korean dishes that were being served, but I could not keep up with this knowledge of multicultural cuisine. Don't get me started on how lost I was at my first sushi restaurant experience that also happened during my first year in DC.
Attempting to Fit In
While exploring the food culture in DC, I learned that many urban areas are obsessed with bowls. Everywhere you go, everything is in a bowl. Burrito bowls, acaí bowls, power bowls, breakfast bowls and ramen bowls. Is there a severe prejudice against plates? I don't mind bowls, but to me plates hold value for being able to support non-liquid foods. Since coming to DC, I will have to admit that the amount of times I have used plates in my dorm has decreased and I feel like I too am developing an implicit prejudice towards them.
The biggest culture shock of the urban food scene for me is the prevalence of Starbucks. The closest Starbucks or coffee shop, for that matter, back home was a thirty to forty minute drive. If I wanted coffee, I would just make my own, go to a 'ma and pa' diner or hit up one of my town's 15 gas stations. When I came here I felt bombarded by the caffeine addiction and the prevalence of the coffee dealers that fed into the fast-paced life of DC's working class.
The first time I went to a Starbucks at college, insecurity hit me in the most severe way. I quickly realized that I had no idea how to order. “I would like a grande, dirty chai, with soy and no whip,” people would say ordering their post work-out-class beverage before me. Terrified, I then proceeded to stumble through my order, my cheeks burning red from embarrassment.
Wishing the Country Roads Could Take Me Home
In moments like these, I desperately miss my little home town. I miss my favorite dive, Tudor’s Biscuit World (all of you from WV understand) and my favorite order, ‘Lil Tater. I miss biscuits and gravy, ramps and cook out food. I miss real, homemade, half and half in the summer. Now, living in a highly vegan area, I have to hide my desperation for chowing down on racks upon racks of ribs or plowing through any grilled meat dish. I love my college dearly, but I miss that sports culture and eating pepperoni rolls at Friday night football games. In DC I am able to be more myself most of the time, but learning to eat here made me feel like the stereotypical redneck foreigner who could not adjust.
I am two years into college now, and I finally feel like I can carry my weight. I finally have an appreciation of falafel, and I can scarf down a burrito bowl with the best of them. I still cannot order coffee, but I accept my inability to grasp Starbuck's lingo. I have my mom’s gravy recipe, and whip up quick drop biscuits when I am missing home on Sunday mornings. And believe me, when I know my parents are coming to visit I request a dozen Tudor’s biscuits to help my withdrawal.
There are still times when crunchy granola culture shock gets to me, and when it does I devour some not at all vegan mac and cheese. My tastes, like my personality, have definitely been influenced by the culture I am now surrounded by, but now I am comfortable and proud to keep my country road roots safe in the big city around me.