About three weeks into my eight-month stint here in France, I began craving almond butter. I missed slathering it on apple and banana slices, drizzling it on top of hearty smoothie bowls and, I’ll admit, eating it straight out of the jar with a spoon. At first, I tried to suppress these cravings because I had heard time and time again that any form of nut butter is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to find in France. I was just going to have to get used to it, or eventually convince my mom to send me some from New York.
However, due to my utter lack of self-control and inability to ignore these cravings, I found myself soaking wet on a gray and torrential-downpour kind of Wednesday morning a few weeks ago trekking 30 minutes to Saveurs de la Terre, the closest organic (or, as they say in Europe, bio) market in the Vendôme area. This was it; I was finally going to find my almond butter.
A whopping 12 euros later and I was the proud owner of Senfas Crème D’Amandes Complètes. I fit the glass jar snuggly into my bag, ensuring its protection from the unrelenting rain as I left the store. Bracing myself for the long walk home, I was entertained by the thought of all the almond butter and jelly sandwiches I was going to eat for lunch that week.
The first order of business upon returning home, however, was a taste test. In other words, I took a spoon to the jar before I even had the chance to take off my rain boots. And boy, did it taste heavenly. It was smooth, with only the occasional crunch of the nutty almond grains, and deliciously fragrant. It tasted like home.
My spoon was immersed halfway into the jar for the inevitable second helping and my lips were lined with almond oil (a result, I admit, of the unrefined way I was satiating my cravings) when suddenly, I paused. What in the world was I doing?
One of the main reasons I decided to move to France after graduation is because I wanted an authentic culinary experience. I wanted to be in an environment where people eat as close to the land as possible, where the innate harmony between human beings and the land that’s feeding us is not clouded by large agricultural chemical experiments. I wanted to taste what it’s like to walk into a grocery store and see fruits and vegetables grown in France, by farmers. And, perhaps most importantly, I wanted to fully immerse myself in the gastronomic culture of a country many deem to be one of the culinary capitals of the world. From baguette to cheese to crepes to crisp haricot verts, to boeuf bourguignon, to confit de canard, to quiche and all the way back baguette again, I wanted to taste it all.
And yet, here I was, soaking wet and spoon-feeding myself almond butter.
This is not to say that almond butter is unhealthy or processed. In fact, it’s deliciously natural and quite healthy (when a normal amount is consumed, that is). The problem with almond butter in France is that it’s decidedly not French. And at that moment, right at the precipice of my second spoonful, I came to understand that the all the sweet and savory opportunities that present themselves when traveling abroad are only realized if I allow myself to be changed. There is undoubtedly value in the experience of tasting French classics and, in return, introducing American dishes to the locals here. There is also value in the occasional indulgence of American flavors as one of the best remedies for homesickness. However, there is a vast difference between mutual cultural exchanges and stubbornly hanging on to something I had grown to love in America. Guilty of the latter, I wasn’t allowing myself to fully embrace the flavors of France.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m going to finish that jar of almond butter because I can’t stand wasting food. Plus, it was 12 euros, after all. But I also promise you that it was the first and the last time I ever buy almond butter in France.