Food for Thought

Just moved abroad? Some food for thought - your diet will change! 

Our series of blogs from Cigna Global IPMI’s Arjan Toor, talks about his experiences when moving to a new country and how this will affect your health in ways you might not have considered.

Moving to a new country will introduce new cultures, new environments - a new lifestyle to some degree or other. It’s likely that your diet will change and whether you decide to eat out a lot or cook, the ingredients, style and culture of eating can vary widely. Being from the Netherlands but having worked and lived in different countries in the past 10 years - Hong Kong, South Korea, England and Scotland - has really opened my eyes to how much food can vary! The availability of certain foods in foreign countries is an obvious one, but it’s the culture, etiquette and attitudes to food that you might be less prepared for!

Supermarkets and shops may provide your usual staples, but at a different price or in unfamiliar packaging. So don’t be surprised if you have to pay way above prices you’re used to for products from back home, as the price will include import costs – and that is if you can get them at all. Using locally sourced, in season, fresh ingredients will always be less expensive, but you should also be aware of the safety of food when in a different country.

Some tips:

  • Be water aware
    If your new destination country doesn’t have great water sanitation then you’ll need to think further than just buying bottled water. Avoid tap water in locations with poor sanitation and bear in mind this will apply to food washed such as raw fruit and vegetables, salads and also any beverages which aren’t either boiled or treated. 
  • Imported vs. local produce?
    Check and see how meat and dairy produce is treated – is the milk and cheese pasteurised? While living in Asia a few years ago with my family, we were conscious about food safety – especially with young children. But after a bit of shopping around, we found some great outlets for imported products where we could buy fresh milk from New Zealand and beef from the US. You may wish to seek out the larger, more familiar brands or pay that bit more to import certain goods.
  • Supermarket shock
    Be prepared to get it wrong at the supermarkets – I know I did – with working out what the usual staples are called and branded as. I was overwhelmed by the amount of unfamiliar items available while in Korea. Despite the initial challenges, we fell in love with Korean food – and are now roaming the UK supermarkets to look for Korean ingredients!   And that’s not all, supermarket opening times can vary widely from country to country, as we found out showing up at a closed store on a Sunday afternoon in the UK. So it’s so useful to tap into the local knowledge, plan ahead and research before shopping.
  • Time to eat?
    Speak to colleagues, new friends and locals to help to gauge social etiquette around mealtimes – especially important if you have young children. With some European countries such as Spain, Italy and Greece eating with their children, of all ages, as late as after 10pm, it can come as a shock when other more Northern European countries consider eating late to be the confine of adults only. And mealtimes can vary across social groups in relation to participation, setting, duration, meal items, meal sequence, and attributed significance. In China, for example, older-generation family members take food before the younger generation. Find out more about ‘how to dine like a local’ across different countries.

It can be a minefield but also a great opportunity to find out about the new culture you’ve arrived at – food is at the heart of many countries and the socialization process. So have fun and enjoy discovering what your new destination has to offer!

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Arjan Toor

 Arjan Toor, Managing Director at Cigna Global