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Moving cross-culturally brought with it a whole set of dilemmas and problems I never saw coming. Some of them quite serious and some of them… well… not so much.

One thing I thought I had figured out before I moved overseas was what to do with food that falls on the floor. In the US families have their own version of what’s generally called the “three second” or “five second” rule. If something falls on the floor but is immediately picked up, it’s declared still safe to eat (despite the fact that scientifically the amount of germs on that piece of food has nothing to do with floor time!).

But when I moved to South Asia, that one-size-fits-all rule didn’t seem helpful for all of the situations I was encountering. There’s a lot more dirt on my floors here than you generally find in the US. Meanwhile, there’s also not certain Western foods I love. I found a need for a more robust guideline – something to encompass all the realities of life here. Maybe the following categories could help you too (should you ever be coming this way)…

1)      Easily locally available food item. Anything purchased from the local market, bakery, or dry goods store. That chunk of potato or store-bought cookie falls to the floor and goes straight into the garbage bin. Since most days there’s enough dust on my floor to make tiny muddy footprints if you walk across it with wet feet – think about what else is probably down there. Trash it! (Alternate possibility: feed it to the local street dog/cow. What they don’t know won’t hurt them!)

2)      Can be purchased semi-locally, not easy to find. For me, this includes good cheese (which I bring with me after visiting more foreigner-friendly cities), strawberries (available only a month or so out of the year), and corn chips (the purchase of which involves 45 minutes roundtrip of travel). When one of these things calls on the floor, there’s a lot to consider. When’s the next time I’ll be visiting a place I can get more from? How expensive was it at the import store? When was the last time I cleaned this particular floor? How dirty does the food look? How inconvenient would it be if I got sick by eating whatever this has picked up off the floor? (eg: am I traveling soon?)
There’s a bit of graph work involved to include all the variables…

3)      Not at all local. This is rarer to have in my possession, but would include things like home baked goods sent from friends in America, cherry-flavored Jolly Ranchers (also from America)… okay, so basically anything sent from America. Also – anything that could be purchased in a larger city with import stores that I won’t be visiting anytime soon.
This is a desperate, limited category that you should be taking special precautions against dropping or spilling. Should, however, your alert reflexes fail to hinder its fall into the germy world of the floor – there is absolutely no question what you do with it. EAT IT. Even if you have to nibble around a random clump of hair or piece of rat poo – it’s definitely not worth losing to a little dirt!

And those are my new, South-Asia informed guidelines on what to do with food that falls on the floor. Would you add anything?

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