Ratna Ling Week 3: The Hunger Games

SN858122When I arrived here 2.5 weeks ago, almost everyone I met said the same thing to me: “Don’t worry, you’ll get used to it.” And to some extent it’s true. I’ve gotten used to working in the bindery, and I’ve gotten used to waking up at six every morning. I’ve gotten used to the excessive chanting, the classes, and the people. I’m pretty good with most of it. What I haven’t gotten used to is the food.

I’m not a vegetarian, but that isn’t the problem. I can deal with vegetarian food. The issue here is the quality of the food, and the amount of left-overs we are asked to eat. One shouldn’t heat and re-heat couscous over and over again. It makes it rubbery. I don’t like being served salad greens that are wilted, or slimy. A lot of what is served here I would return at a restaurant. I guess I should mention that my description of meals applies strictly to the food served to the volunteer staff. The guests here appear to get cooked meals every evening, and they share our lunches. They eat well. Us? Not so much.

We’ve spent money buying food the past two Sundays, something that we will be unable to maintain as we are not making any money here. We bought some cans of soup and chili, and even a few cans of Spaghetti-O’s for those nights when we just can’t handle left-overs again. Canned soup is a luxury for me now. While a handful of folks here share our disdain for the cuisine, the majority don’t seem to mind at all. That “majority of folks” are in their early twenties, and thus happy they don’t have to worry about grocery shopping or cooking. Food quality doesn’t come in to the equation. I happen to enjoy grocery shopping and cooking. But I’m also at least ten years older than most of the people here, and I like food. I like eating.

Can we do six months here with the food being less than we had hoped?

SN858167Of course we can. But that isn’t the right question. The right question is: Do we want to do six months with lack-luster vegetarian food? That is a harder question to answer. Both my boyfriend and I are enjoying much of what Ratna Ling has to offer. I like that I get to see dozens and dozens of birds take flight as I walk past multiple times a day. I like that the deer seem to follow me everywhere, and take lunch outside of my cabin. The scenery here can’t be beat, and we are just a hop, skip and a jump away from the coast. We’ve met some really interesting people here, and even made a few friends.

I know that any new situation is going to seem daunting and strange at first, and I’m keeping an open mind. I’m rolling with the punches. The food sucks. So what? I managed to live in Prague for seven years, and the food there is far from good. Like really far. Czech food is somewhere between bland and nothing special. And what they do to international cuisine should qualify as a hate crime against food. If I can manage there, I can manage here. But then again, I was making money and had easy access to grocery stores. I could cook what and when I wanted.

SN858161Between the shopping we did last weekend and the care package of snacks my mother sent, we should be alright for a few more weeks. But after that? I don’t know. I have to decide if I want to work my ass off every day and cross my fingers that we get something good that day, or if I want to just say … screw it.

At this point my feeling is that we’ll stick it out. I’m shamelessly campaigning for care packages from my FB friends, and I’m going to cook some stuff on my one day off – if I’m not too tired. We’ll see how it goes. So far, we’re having fun and working hard. One day we’ll look back and smile at the time we ate microwaved cans of Spaghetti-O’s while watching Top Chef in our cozy, little cabin in the woods.

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