Since I was a teenager I’ve wanted to go to Europe. I’m 33 years old and I’ve just now made it a reality – I’m in Spain. In the decade and a half I’ve had to fantasize about what this continent might be like, I’ve conjured many things: I was sure the people were much more intelligent and civilized than Americans. I was positive the landscape would be idyllic, the architecture stolidly ancient, and the pace slow. More than all of that, though, I believed the food would be pure and unadulterated by toxic pesticides, weird preservatives or anything else. I just knew that there would be an unwavering respect for the integrity of breakfast, lunch, second lunch and dinner. Well, I can tell you that I’ve been rather, er, surprised by what the realities are in Spain.
Let’s start with the people. I’m a big fan of mullets (short hair on top, long in the back). I mean we all are – there are entire websites devoted to them – but Spaniards take them to a whole new level. I’ve seen at least a dozen Spanish muchachos whose mullets were replete with 1 to 10 solid, foot-long dreadlocks, or “The Dreaded Spanish Mullet.” Here’s a picture in case you can’t even imagine what this offense might look like.
As for the people, let’s just say they’re relaxed. As long as they’re not rock climbing, in which case many of them are screaming obscenities at the top of their lungs a lot of the time. But when they’re NOT climbing… For instance, yesterday I saw a man (with a mullet) with sunscreen only half rubbed into his back, hiking around with only a Speedo and shoes on. And I can assure you that the only person who was embarrassed by that situation was me.
I was instructed by a new Spanish friend to stop saying “perdon” (“excuse me”) every time I sort of get in someone’s way because it makes me seem weird – Spaniards don’t care if I’m in their way. And when you order dinner at a restaurant (at no earlier than 9:30pm, by the way), the waiter will greet you with a casual, “Di me.” Or, “Tell me.” If a waiter came up to us in America and said, “Tell me what you want,” it would be bad. Which brings me to the food. While I was right about the idyllic landscape, the incredibly beautiful architecture and the slow pace of things here, I was way off on the quality of the food.
If you like pork, you should come to Spain. On one menu there were 5 options, 4 of which were a pork product with a salad. An iceberg lettuce salad. If you like iceberg lettuce, you should come to Spain. And if you don’t ever want to buy an organic item again, come to rural Spain. Spain exports 99.6% of their organic produce, a lot of which are olive products, to the rest of the world. Apparently, they don’t need it. I’m not even sure if most of the people outside of the big cities would know what organic produce is.
There are preservatives, vegetable oil, and colorings in almost everything packaged. I saw one jar of olives that contained 8 different preservatives. And they don’t tell you the name of the preservative – it’s just “conservadoro E-202” or some other E number. Having said that, I will say that I have not seen high fructose corn syrup once or hydrogenated oils, so that’s good.
And the meat? We bought some meat called “Solomillo fileteado,” but we’re still not sure what it was. Not even our Spanish-speaking friends could tell us because it turns out “solomillo” and “fileteado” both basically mean “fillet.” We think it was chicken. And ground beef? Almost non-existent (like I said, they like their pork over here). My friends bought some ground beef in the normal Styrofoam packaging covered in plastic, and the ingredients went something like this: ground beef, soy protein, corn, vegetable fiber, soy oil, conservadoro E-202, conservadoro E-222, spices, and coloring. What?! We just wanted to make some burgers! I didn’t eat it – I stuck with my mystery meat. Besides the meat being mis-labeled or full of unnecessary ingredients, I haven’t been able to figure out what their animal husbandry practices are over here. I sort of don’t want to know.
So, eating Paleo in Spain? Not that great, but it’s sort of possible – I’m definitely trying. That is, if you consider eating a lot of french fries as “trying to eat Paleo”. For your starches, you’re not going to find a sweet potato or a squash in many markets. For your fats, you’d think that avocados would be an easy find. Not necessarily true. BUT the olive oil is fantastic, and they cook all their meats with it in restaurants. And the red wine is cheap and satisfying. The patatas fritas (french fries) they serve with every meal are, of course, fantastic, and are my only non-Paleo indulgence so far. When you mix it all together – the pork loin, iceberg lettuce salad, olive oil and balsamic vinegar, patatas fritas, and your new mulleted friends, it makes for a pretty entertaining and enjoyable meal.
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