Living in a foreign country teaches you so many things. It can teach you about another culture or language. It can teach you how to be a better traveler such as what to pack or how to find the best deals. It can also teach you about yourself'; what's important to you or what kind of person you are. I know that I've learned innumerable things throughout my years of traveling. Everything from how to find a hostel on very short notice, to the fact that "sleep" and "overnight train" are mutually exclusive terms. One of the big lessons I'll take away from my current stay in Paris has to do with food. More specifically, fresh food. Five months in France has taught me nothing if it hasn't taught me how to buy, prepare, and appreciate fresh food. It's not that I wasn't a fan of fresh food in the US. I remember going to the farmer's market with my mom when I was a kid, and I always pack my grocery list with things form the "perimeter" like we've been told to do. But the French just take eating fresh to a whole different level. They don't have to think about trying to eat fresh like many of us in the US do. It comes naturally to them. In France, "fresh eating" isn't the latest dietary trend, it's a state of mind.
But what does it really mean to eat fresh? I'd like to sum it up with a description of the dinner I made last night. I cut up two tomatoes, one shallot, and one avocado. I mixed them with a pinch of sugar, an ounce of fresh-squeezed lemon juice, freshly chopped coriander and a cup of canned corn (not fresh, but hey, nobody's perfect). After adding salt and pepper to taste, the mixture was used a topping for baked potatoes. Add some crème fraiche and freshly shredded French cheese and you've got the perfect light and tasty summer dish. I wouldn't have even thought about making this in the US. First of all, I wouldn't have had all those fresh ingredients on hand, and secondly, I wouldn't have known what to do with them if they had been there. But that's what living in France will do to you: it will train you to buy the freshest and simplest ingredients and it will give you the know-how to make something with them.
Eating fresh is definitely possible in the US, and many people do it. I just think it's made easier to do so here in France. Markets and specialty shops (cheese shops, butchers, bakeries) are everywhere, and the people you'll meet truly appreciate a good, fresh meal. The French way of eating rub off on you, and you'll be really happy it did. Not only is cooking and eating fresh food good for your health and easy to do, it also tastes a whole lot better than the processed stuff. Call me crazy, but I'll take a a well-seasoned, fresh-veggie, cream and cheese topped baked potato over a processed meal-in-a-box any day.