Subsistence – Costco? Not so.

The fourth day of your trip, it hits you: an abdominal pain that rivals eating pop rocks and drinking soda. You were hoping your tender American stomach could manage the climate of a foreign country, but your desire to find the nearest drug store for painkillers overwhelms you. The pharmacist sees your unfamiliar face and proceeds to ask, “How many do you need?” The scowl on your face and lack of words shows the true colors of the American spirit of bulk-quantity purchasing in full view. As a custom of Panamanian culture a “buy what you need” attitude is normative within grocery stores, pharmacies, and retail. In terms of subsistence, Panamanians sustain their livelihood in a way Americans would label minimalist and simplistic. Food is bought and consumed by what is necessary, and only as such. Used to bulk quantity purchases, overconsumption and produce stores like Costco, Americans are acclimated with buying (as well as wasting) large quantities of food.

Unlike in America, local grocery stores are found on every street corner in Panama, locals popping in and out with the supplies that they need for the day. Shopping in general seems to be part of the day for many locals practicing their daily habitual patterns. Comparatively, shopping in the states requires a half-day process of driving, parking, cart-picking, list-writing, line-groaning, and car-loading. In many instances, our need to buy large quantities of food drive some consumers to resort to fast-food purchasing and quick meals. Through our perpetual need to be the ‘bigger is better’ United States, we often lose quality and health in the process. Even in their literal consumption, Panamanians ingest and squander consumable foods more consciously, cooking every part of the fish, eating more fruits and vegetables, and in general, eating less. Even in the book Panama, Hank indulges in his simple breakfast: Papaya, scramble eggs, and micha bread. And in America, what do we have for breakfast? Is it a Denny’s, IHOP, Waffle House, Wild Eggs, Cracker Barrel? The choices are endless, and the calories are infinite!

In my opinion, even though Americans compliment themselves in their ability to be globalized and technologically advanced. However, as a whole, we have a lot to learn from the rest of the world in regards to consumption and a simplified lifestyle. We live in a world that never slows down and constantly demands our attention. But it was the moment I stepped foot onto Panamanian soil I found myself breathing a lot deeper and enjoying the simple moments of peace and consciousness. Interculturally, I have already learned the benefits of simple living and smart consumption. If we are to live in a world sustainable for future generations, we must be thinking in the moment, aware of our actions and the repercussions they entail.



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