Russian food. Those two words combined send my stomach on a tumultuous roller coaster of queasiness and indigestion.
As international ski racers on the World Cup, we're on the road for five straight months. Our tour often includes at least a dozen different countries throughout Eastern Europe, Central Europe and Scandinavia. Our bodies never get used to anything -- the only certainty is the irregularity of what you eat, when you eat it, and how it's prepared.
In Scandinavia they serve cucumbers and pickled herring for breakfast, in Germany you see a fair amount of schnitzel, and in France, three-quarters of your daily caloric intake comes in the form of cheese or cream.
If it wasn't hard enough to live out of a suitcase and sleep two feet away from a different teammate every night, dietary options throw you an intestinal curve ball. And for some reason, Russian food tends to be the cuisine that is least agreeable to our North American stomachs.
As far as I can tell, Russians like to either A) boil their food, B) fry their food and/or C) douse their food with salt. Now I'm a person who likes salt. I've been known to add salt to Ruffles potato chips after a hard workout in the sun.
However, as an athlete, I strive to create a plate of food with a host of different colors, prioritizing green for its nutritious attributes. Somehow, the majority of the food here has a brown tinge to it and everything seems to have sat in the fry pan, deep-fat fryer, or oven just 10 percent too long.
We're served hot-dog salads for dinner and tongue -- a Russian delicacy -- for lunch. (When I saw the tongue, I pulled a 180 and opted for my stash of Clif bars hidden in my glove drawer.
As far as beverages are concerned, they seem to love offering a rainbow of drink varieties, all displayed in glasses half-full, standing in perfect formation. When you expect one to be sweet, you get tomato juice; the orange ones are either blended carrots or a mixture that tastes like Tang concentrate.
In the dessert section there are hot-cross buns that lure us in every time. Last year in Rybinsk, someone on the team got one filled with delicious apple stuffing. Here, every time we bite into one we find stewed onions. Talk about a letdown!
One of the biggest things I've noticed about Russia is that the disparity between the rich and poor is exponentially greater than one might find in the United States. A while back someone told me a story about a training camp where all the jam at breakfast would mysteriously disappear every morning. It was days until they realized that the Russian skiers were mixing jam and hot water in their drink belts to make "sports drinks."
We're learning to subsidize the Russian offerings with cereal that coaches smuggle up the gondola from down below, and we're savoring the peanut butter that we brought in our gear bags. Everyone's question seems to be, "Is this the food that people will try to win gold medals with?" If so, the Russian team will certainly have the home-course advantage.