I get most of my protein from chicken breasts. It’s tasty, easy to cook, and can be found in nearly any supermarket of the world. It’s the main ingredient in most dinner meals I cook. When I first went to South America, I noticed something weird: the chicken breast would start to smell only two or three days after I bought it. This chicken must not be fresh, I thought.
I went to Eastern Europe and the chicken would also begin to smell quickly. Even tiny chicken scraps I put in the trash would cause the entire apartment to stink if I didn’t empty it promptly. I learned to only buy small quantities that I knew I would cook in the next day or two and to empty my trash every three days, even if it wasn’t full.
When I came back to the States in late 2012, I went to the supermarket and bought a package of chicken breast. I don’t know why I did this because my mother and stepmom insisted on feeding me, saving me from having to cook. When it was time to use the chicken breast, one week after I bought it, I assumed that all was lost and the chicken would be inedible. I opened the package, expecting the smell of death, but instead there was not a single faint odor. It looked and smelled fresh.
While abroad, I would ask why the chicken would smell so quickly, but over time I gradually concluded that dead flesh should degrade rather quickly unless it was frozen. So my question changed: why doesn’t the chicken I buy in America smell? What advanced chemicals are they putting into this meat that they aren’t using abroad? When I eat foreign chicken, I know I’m eating a product that is close to natural, raised somewhat nearby, but in America I can’t say I’m exactly sure what I’m eating. The same thing happens with bread and milk. Foreign bread often develops mold within a week and foreign milk actually spoils by the sell-by date, but not in America. Food stays “good” for long periods of time.
I had already examined other questions. For example, why are the girls so thin in Eastern Europe? I was surprised to find out that girls rarely eat more than two meals a day, and I even met girls who only ate one meal a day. Two meals a day seemed to contain some element of self-deprivation, but fast forward three years and I currently eat two meals a day (in addition to a snack). The better question is why do Americans insist on eating so much? Why do they seek pleasure in food? Why do they think three meals a day is standard?
In Eastern Europe, I noticed that people are stoic and not friendly. They do not have a bubbly attitude towards strangers. They don’t say “How are you?” to everyone or give “Thanks” for the most minor of deeds. I wondered why this is, but if you look at ancient history, being friendly to strangers could come with grave repercussions. You had to be skeptical of those outside your tribe because those strangers could kill you. So my new question became why are Americans so nice to people they don’t know?
In Eastern Europe, people don’t care much about nurturing their individuality. They try to fit in and look like everyone else instead of trying to be unique, dynamic, empowered, or whatever other buzzword is trendy this year. Why don’t they cover themselves with tattoos to better express who they are? Why don’t they color their hair green or just shave half of their head? Now I see it from a different angle. Americans are afraid of accepting the boring humanity they share with everyone else and are desperate to stand out with superficial accoutrements that reveal their insecurites and the massive confusion they have about who they are. The better question is why do Americans race to be the biggest freakshow on the block for the sole purpose of standing out aesthetically but not intellectually?
Things that Americans come to see as normal are quite abnormal in other parts of the world, ranging from how they conduct business, how they pair bond, how they entertain themselves, how they educate themselves, how they approach ambition, and how they prioritize they wants and needs. America is exceptional after all, but not in a way that I find normal, which is why any psychological or sociological study coming out of the West is complete rubbish to me. It’s examining the behavior of a very peculiar type of people who are not representative of human beings around the world. After being exposed to foreign cultures for over five years, my instinct is to see them as more “normal” from a human perspective, while seeing the American way of life to be quite perverse and strange, a culture that needs a massive dose of medicine to align itself with more traditional behavior.
I recently returned to Washington DC for one month (I actually lived in DC instead of the suburbs) and the best analogy I can give you to my experience is walking through the zoo, viewing the animals on display. I felt pity for how these animals were taken out of a traditional environment and put into something wholly artificial, that they traded their freedom and the pursuit of truth for comfort and scheduled feedings, without even realizing it. I should have felt angry at what I saw, but no one gets angry from a visit to the zoo.
Instead, my visit was surprisingly emotionless. I noticed the signs that said not to feed the animals and tried to keep a safe distance. I sympathized with the animals who I could sense knew that something is wrong with their captivity, but they have been so domesticated that they don’t know how to regain their natural instincts. Too many American animals were born in chains and think their cage is how life always was for their kind. If you take them out into the wild I don’t think they would know how to survive. For most of them it’s better they stay in the zoo, and my fear is that I will soon see long lines of free animals abroad wanting to move to zoos modeled on what we see in America.
Behavior that I once saw as normal is now definitely abnormal, based on my own reading of history and the sometimes confusing experiences I’ve had abroad that conflicted with what I was taught in my birth country. My change in perspective gives me hope for my fellow man, because perspective can be changed. It is possible to escape the zoo, to cleanse your body from the “food” they feed you, and live more closely to your human nature—as much as you can in an urban environment—but it’s safe to say that most people don’t want to leave the zoo even if given the chance. They don’t want to change their perspective and they will never arrive to the point where they stop and ask themselves why the chicken doesn’t smell.