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Saturday, July 29, 2006

Morgan Spurlock wasn't exagerating

When it comes to portion sizes, the US really does live up to it's "Super Size" reputation.

Most people looking at me will probably conclude "there's a man who doesn't like to leave food on his plate" - and they'd probably be right. But of the 10 or so meals I enjoyed in the USA, I didn't finish a single one. Seriously, I admitted defeat with every single meal and couldn't bear to look at the dessert menu once. The US is a "doggy bag" culture. After giving up the fight halfway through my main course each time, I was invariably presented with the option to take the unfinished portion with me in a doggy bag, presumably to reheat incorrectly and risk food poisoning at home (a rather dangerous attitude in the litigation capital of the world, I would think). Obviously that wasn't an option for me, since I was staying in hotel rooms.

What a shame.

You see, when I'm abroad, I like to try as many different things as possible. I'd like a starter, a main course perhaps with a side order I've never tried before, and maybe a dessert. Yet the starters were invariably a full meal in themselves. Cost wasn't an issue - the US' reputation for cheap food is certainly well deserved - it was the guilt factor. I just could not bring myself to order enough food for a family of four and leave them to bin 2 1/2 people's worth (I did try my best!). It is as if the US caters for the greediest by default. Why? Surely, if you eat enough for 3 people at one sitting, you should pay for 3 meals rather than expecting everyone else to have 3 meals worth of food dumped in front of them, which they will either waste or risk their health trying to eat? Why not restrict portion sizes, charge less and let the chubsters order 3 side dishes? Is it any wonder that the US is the most consumptive country on earth? Just think of the energy wasted in the creation and preparation of all that food. And if that doesn't quite fit with the hospitality that the American's are so rightfully proud of, why not make those extra-size portions a free upgrade available on request? In otherwords, give us some choice!

Another stereotype was also true - that of the disgustingly fat American. I use this term after careful consideration of it's offensiveness, but truly feel it is warranted. We in the UK have more than our fair share of obese people, no question. And a fair few morbidly obese folks too. But even walking through a busy town centre daily, I only see the the mega-obese (35 stone up) on rare occassions. In NY and in the Midwest I saw a dozen or more over about a week.

On the NY underground, I saw two of the fattest people I have ever seen outside of a Channel 5 freakshow documentary. Two black women in their 20s or 30s who each took up a full bench (usually wide enough for three average sized adults to sit comfortably). They had grown to such a size that they no longer resembled a human being in anything but caricature. They were basically spheres with arms and legs the thickness of my waist sticking out. Their torsos had effectively collapsed upon themselves, such that there was no telling where their breasts ended and their bellies began. Both carried 2 litre sized plastic squeezy bottles with straws, filled with a dark liquid such as coke, or Dr Pepper or similar, which they guzzled as they talked.

I know that there are few poor souls that suffer from diseases such as Prader Willi Syndrome and when it comes to criticising folks for a few extra kilos around the gut I have no right to point fingers, but lets get one thing clear. When you have a substantial proportion of the population who can actually weigh themselves in fractions of a tonne, it isn't genetics, it isn't "Metabolic Syndrome" and it isn't "hormonal imbalance" - it is the inevitable result of a society that gives you three time the food you need and doesn't educate you that 3 litres of Coca-Cola contains 300 to 350 grammes of sugar and 1300Kcals of energy and that the more of the stuff you drink, the more you need to drink because you're pissing it out like a horse.

It really was a shame, and was perhaps the only criticism I had of the US food-wise. The food I did enjoy was well made and tasty and even in the fairly provincial small town I visited in the Midwest, there were dishes to tempt even the most adventurous pallette. There was just so fucking much of it....



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