Thursday, March 10, 2005

Rice Milk Crisis

“What, no rice milk?” I asked Jody as I helped her unload the groceries after a recent trip to the supermarket. I had immediately noticed the bags seemed lighter than usual.

“They were all out,” Jody said, almost apologetically.

“Harumph,” I muttered, trying to be flip about the matter but barely concealing my disappointment.

Rice milk isn’t just a guilty pleasure in our family, you see; it’s practically a lifestyle. Our enchantment with the organic white stuff goes back 15 years now.

We first began drinking Imagine’s brand of Rice Dream rice milk when we lived in Berkeley, and we haven’t poured regular “cow’s milk” (as the kids call it) onto our Blueberry Morning cereal or into our chai masala since.

Still, as this wasn’t the first time our store has run out, I wasn’t entirely surprised. The supply channels from Palo Alto to Israel are a bit longer than when we lived less than an hour away from the factory.

When a second week went by and the supermarket shelves still ran bare, though, I began to get worried.

Now, when we moved to Israel in 1994, there was no such thing as rice milk here. I knew that from a pilot trip I’d made a few months before our arrival.

So when we packed up our “lift” – the containers that were sent by ship with all our furniture and pots and pans and paperwork – we included several large palettes of rice milk to “ease the transition.”

Friends thought we were wacky. I deemed it prescient. Especially when, a mere two months after we ran out of our imported supply, Israel miraculously started to stock our favorite beverage.

But since then, every time there’s a rice milk shortage, a mini-crisis erupts in my mind. What if this time it’s for good, I think.

Maybe Israelis just aren’t buying enough of the stuff?

Or maybe the manufacturer has decided to boycott Israel? It wouldn’t be the first time that politics prevented us from imbibing what we want, when we want: let’s not forget that Coke didn’t arrive on the Israeli scene until 1966 and Pepsi not until 1992 (the Snopes website has the complete history).

I did a survey of several other stores which also normally carried our rice milk. All out.

Even at the health food shop down the street from us – which charges a 20% premium for an already overpriced product (nearly $3.50 a box here vs. $1.50 in the States) – there were only three boxes left.

I bought out the store.

I can whine all I want, but truthfully, we’ve been pretty fortunate in terms of getting the foods we crave from back home. There are only a few items we still lack, nearly all of them of the junk food variety.

Tops on my list: corn chips. The Fritos brand. Just hasn’t gotten here for some reason. Whenever I bring up this particular desire, friends inevitably point me to Doritos tortilla chips, which we do get and which are even from the same Frito-Lay company. But there’s something different...the shape or texture or saltiness...that makes Frito’s brand corn chips uniquely satisfying.

Then there’s...doughnuts. Real American doughnuts. Regular readers have heard me wax rhapsodic on Krispy Kremes, and let me tell you, it was a tough break for all us expatriates when Dunkin Donuts pulled out of Israel several years ago.

So, on Jody’s recent trip to the States, when she asked if there was anything she could bring back. I said, “Some Entenmann’s glazed doughnuts, please.” Ziplocked and packed in the cold underbelly of the plane, they’d make the trip just fine I reckoned.

Instead, Jody brought back two boxes of Girl Scout Cookies. Uniquely American, yes, but not the same thing!

Then there’s those big Starbucks-style blueberry muffins. And other equally big cookies from the likes of Mrs. Fields, Famous Amos, Pepperidge Farm...

Are you detecting a pattern here?

It’s not that we don’t have some really yummy baked goods here. You won’t find me saying no to a hot babka. But an oversized, crunchy Pepperidge Farm cookie stuffed with white chocolate chips and macadamia nuts...stop me before I get on the next plane out.

And don’t let me forget what used to be my breakfast staple once upon a time: Eggo frozen waffles. Straight from the freezer into the toaster oven, then smeared with butter and maple syrup, topped with Fritos...sorry, I got carried away (although apparently, the good folks at Eggo have some interesting, very real recipe suggestions).

I’m telling you, though, if I was ever cast in one of those old commercials, anyone telling me to leggo my Eggo would be looking down the wrong side of a blueberry muffin.

Back at the supermarket, during our third week of rice milk deprivation, an official looking man spotted Jody scouring the empty shelves and approached her.

He explained that there had been a dock strike in Italy which, apparently, is the closest port of call to Israel for our beloved rice milk, but that it was over now. The rice milk should be back in another week’s time.

Jody came home and told me. I breathed a sigh of relief and gave the air a triumphant punch.

Not that I was worried or anything.

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