Last week, I purchased a plane ticket that will take me from Detroit, MI to Washington, DC at the end of August. This flight will mark the end of my summer and the beginning of my senior year at Georgetown University. With this in mind, I realized that my current way of Capetonian life would soon be a blessed memory of the past. On that bittersweet note, I know that I have less than 30 days left in this beautiful city. And one of the things I will miss the most is grocery shopping. Yes, you’ve read that previous statement correctly the first time! Here, I have discovered this newfound love of mine for moseying down the aisles of Pick n Pay, my favorite supermarket. But to set the record straight, I did not always jump for joy when I realized that Georgetown’s weekly meal plan did not prepare me for this new life I began around four months ago as a foreign exchange student with no dining hall.
As you’ve probably already gathered from the previous paragraph, I have never had to fret over grocery shopping and cooking meals in order to survive over prolonged periods of time until I came here. At school, Georgetown had me covered and at home my mother always provided. Before leaving the States, I remember rereading the specifics of my study abroad program; there in nice, bold letters stated that a meal plan was not included with my residency. I then attempted to be proactive by starting a Google document for easy, online recipes I found in my free time. (I have never used any of these recipes.) Perhaps, I should have tried out some recipes while I was still at home, but I figured that I would meet that challenge when the time came.
Well, the time came in late January when I first set foot in my local grocery store and I was stressed for two reasons. One, I had no idea how the currency worked. And two, I had no idea what to purchase. I knew however, that my exchange program did not provide any more meals. Thus hunger was imminent due to my empty pantry and fridge shelf. I recall buying bananas, yogurt, rice, granola, broccoli, eggs, canola oil, and Oreos (more or less). You may ask, how many meals can you create from those options? Not many, to answer your question.
All together my first grocery bill, when converted from Rands, amounted to roughly $15-$20. In the States, this would have added up to about $50 (if not more) for things you cannot even make a proper meal with. The high cost of groceries in the States is the reason why I rarely went grocery shopping. There was no reason when I had a weekly meal plan that gave me access to nutritional food for every meal. On the rare occasion when I would shop at Safeway, the closest grocery store to campus, I only bought granola bars, yogurt, milk, and cereal for quick meals. I’ve never thought about buying fresh produce or meat (even if it looked 10x better than the dining hall options) because these items would diminish the majority of the limited disposable income that I had until the next pay period.
For the first two months in Cape Town, I ate the same thing everyday unless I dined out; eggs for breakfast, a peanut butter sandwich and fruit for lunch, and vegetable stir-fry for dinner. Local restaurants would break up the monotonous meals I fixed at home because I was not keen on trying new recipes in the kitchen. As a confessed foodie, I eventually became bored with what I was consuming. Thus, I made a privileged decision to put forth effort when it came to future grocery store trips. I also decided to use my mother’s recipes since I watched her prepare dinner for years. My next trip, I purposely bought more fruit and vegetables. As I started cooking more, I began to save more money because I had leftovers that I preferred to eat over restaurant food. I found comfort in controlling what ingredients I used in my meals.
For the next month or so, I prepared salads, chili, tacos, and quesadillas; I often used items like baked chicken, couscous, hummus, pita bread and avocados. I have learned that a meal can be substantial with some type of protein, fresh or frozen vegetables, fruit, and a starch. In retrospect, I suppose that I could have gone grocery shopping in DC to prepare meals, but as I stated before I would have had less money to go out or to use Uber. Earnings from a work-study job only go so far when the cost of living is high. After living in Cape Town, I find that the cost of groceries is too expensive in the States, unless you want to trade quality for low prices.
Over these past few months, I have come to love grocery shopping because I can afford to buy produce, meat, and other items to prepare future meals. The exchange rate gives me economic freedom, a feeling that I was never used to in the States. Because I am very frugal, I created a strict and effective budget that I adhere to on a weekly basis. However, I allocated a large amount of money to grocery shopping. I must admit, I enjoy Adulting and I feel super satisfied after I leave the grocery store with a cart filled with South African fresh produce. Perhaps I will have a Georgetown “block” meal plan instead of a weekly meal plan this upcoming year, since I plan to allocate more funds in my budget for grocery shopping at the expensive grocery stores. Furthermore, my experience abroad has prepared me for my adult life after college when it comes to grocery shopping, meal planning, and budgeting.