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04/16/2012 / van berger

“We don’t eat to survive..we just eat and eat and eat”

Considering my blog title is “Deep Fried USA” I thought it was only appropriate to start with a topic that is pretty much notorious when dealing with America and Americans: Food and obesity.

MY EXPERIENCE
When I was 15 I came to the states with my family for a few months while my dad was on sabbatical. We lived in North Carolina in a small university town and it was here that I was first introduced to the ‘American diet’. I attended a high school where one of my classes was School store. You would think that this kind of class would teach students entrepreneurial skills like managing money, being creative with ideas, etc. Not true. Guess what we did during class? We made cookies from cookie dough which we then sold in the store to other students- Yes really. My family and I visited American fairs where we were introduced to foods like the blooming onion (basically deep fried onion that’s been made to look like a flower), dinosaur sized turkey legs, and lots of other deep fried stuff like butter. Then there was halloween where I was given more free candy and chocolates that I usually get in a whole year. Not surprisingly I landed up picking up a fair amount of weight during that time.

Left: Blooming onion (deep fried onion in the shape of a flower) – source foodnetwork.com Right: Deep fried butter (omg) -source Pinterest.

So when I knew I would be returning to this deep-fried loving country, I was a bit anxious about falling into the same trap as I did in my teenage years. Being a pretty health-conscious individual back in SA, I have found it incredibly difficult to understand why there are such highly processed, chemically-enhanced foods here. And why so many people consume them- especially when they have the highest rate of obesity in the world. If you don’t believe me here is a website dedicated to obesity in America: http://www.obesityinamerica.org/.

According to some of their statistics from various websites, 35.7% of Americans are obese. Apparently the South has the highest obesity rate (29.4%) followed by the Midwest (28.7%), Northeast (24.9%) and the West (24.1%). Along with this information, they also state that obesity is more likely in lower-income homes. Now this doesn’t surprise me. In the fair amount of supermarkets I have been to you can buy about 5 bags of nacho chips for the price of one bag of grapes. All the special deals are usually for the cheaper, fattier foods and there are no cards (that i’ve seen) that offer benefits in store for buying healthier items. Apart from that, the frozen food isles take up about a 1/3 of the actual shop itself. Another thing I’ve come to realise is that Americans don’t have the same approach to ‘enjoying’ food that South Africans do. The majority of restaurants don’t seem to make a huge effort in making the ‘experience’ of eating out pleasurable. It seems like Americans eat out because they can, not because they want to. The quantity of food is almost always more important than the quality which is really disappointing.

Here are a few of the common foods I’ve seen in shops here which I’ve never seen in South Africa (ever). Every time I see these items- I just get confused while many Americans pop them into their trolleys and move on.

Image

AMERICAN FOOD INVENTIONS:
Here are a few foods that this website says “only America could have invented” It’s pretty entertaining

The list includes:

• corn dogs (popular at baseball games)
• Philly cheesesteak (apparently made with the cheapest fattiest cuts of meat and cheese wizz – which isn’t real cheese)
• american imitation of chinese food (more deep fried stuff)
• s’mores (graham crackers and marshmallows)
• reuben sandwich (a ton of meat, with fake swiss cheese on bread)
• cobb salad (you would think this would be healthy, but believe me it’s not- cheese, chicken, bacon, eggs and whatever else you can find that’s not lettuce)
• baked alaska (basically a pie baked with ice cream inside it)
• buffalo wings (really burnt chicken meat served with cheese)
• turducken (okay we have this in SA, but think it must have originated here. Way too much meat together for me to handle)
• chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream (self-explanatory)

WHY? 
None of these foods sound particularly enticing to me. And so I started to think about why so many people want to stuff them in their mouths everyday! In an article written by Doctor Mark Hyman, he suggests that these industrial processed, sugar, fat, and salt-laden foods are biologically addictive. He actually compares food addiction to drug addiction.

For instance he explains:
“Sugar stimulates the brain’s reward centers through the neurotransmitter dopamine exactly like other addictive drugs. Foods high in fat and sweets stimulate the release of the body’s own opioids (chemicals like morphine) in the brain. People (and rats) develop a tolerance to sugar—they need more and more of the substance to satisfy themselves—just like they do for drugs of abuse like alcohol or heroin.” 

So does this mean Americans are simply the most “addicted” to food and why aren’t South Africans having the same problem? I was curious and so read on to see what could be blamed for this food addiction. It seems that one of the main problems in the food industry is that government seems to promote the idea of personal choice and responsibility, but this doesn’t seem to help when people don’t even know what they are always eating! People are simply told to exercise to burn off calories, but not warned about the dangers some of these foods. Hyman also says that 50% of meals in America are eaten out, and the rest consist of microwavable food. School cafetaria’s are supplied with endless supplies of highly processed foods and ‘sports drinks’ which lead kids and teenagers to form bad eating habits. America is run on capitalism and if many of these food companies decided to help promote healthy eating, they would of course lose a lot of money. So nothing is done.

Hyman suggests some changes that could help the American obesity problem:

  • Changing the costs of these industrial foods so that they include the ‘real cost’ of  the impact on health care and lost productivity.
  • The government should subsidize fruit and vegetable production. Most of the government funds seem to go to subsidizing soy and corn which form the basis of many of these unhealthy foods (I will be writing another post on high-fructose corn syrup- another entity in itself).
  • Encouraging supermarkets to open in poorer communities so they have access to high-quality foods.
  • Stopping food marketing to kids (apparently 50 other countries worldwide have done this- has South Africa?)
  • Changing school lunch rooms with better nutrition education.
  • Start community support programmes with community health workers to educate people about making better food choices.
There is no clear answer as to why things have gotten so incredibly bad in terms of obesity and unhealthy eating in America, but I’m thankful that in South Africa I at least feel like I can trust the food items and their ingredients a bit more. D and I have been so careful as to what we buy here (checking most of the labels to check sugar content, etc). I would highly recommend that people travelling to America be aware of the ‘secret ingredients’ put into products here and always check sugar content, and whether products contain high-fructose corn syrup or artificial sweeteners like Splenda (which I will go into in another post).
Anyone else had similar experiences over here?
UPDATE: After a friend read this post they sent me some awesome links for more “awesome” american food.
Check out these websites for a laugh (some of the stuff is pretty scary looking):
I was also sent this TED talk by an American friend which is really interesting. It’s about how America passed laws to use ingredients that the rest of the world doesn’t.

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4 Comments

Leave a Comment
  1. Marisa / Apr 17 2012 00:17

    Great post Van. That’s seriously scary stuff :O Deep fried butter?! o my hat. Shame and I know how much you like your healthy (read normal) food. Can’t believe that a bag of grapes costs the same as five packets of nachos 😦

  2. clementinaceramics / Apr 17 2012 01:07

    Really enjoyed the post Vanessa…Vienie is going to Santa Fe on Sunday for 5 weeks, and I think I need to warn her…will send link to your post.

  3. beingbrazen / May 17 2012 23:23

    Thats one of the things I miss about living in America, the food. Though It’s a little too easy to get carried away with eating there. I just love that there are so many options of everything (and anything)

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