Most obvious statement of the year: Americans like their food:
From bottom up: Bun, mayo, mustard, ketchup, chili, beef, cheese, beef, cheese, bacon (deep fried), tomato, lettuce, mustard, ketchup, mayo, bun. Eat your heart out (literally), Glasgow.
But it’s not all bad – there’s some lettuce in there, so you are getting some of your five portions of fruit and veg for the day.
Going to the US on an airline that skimped somewhat on the food (dinner at take-off, a small snack 6 hours later, and that’s your lot) wasn’t good preparation for the calorie-fest that is the US. Chicago, in particular, was surreal. Half-asleep after the flight, I got off the L-train to discover I was on the set of a movie, “Revenge of the Fatties”. It wasn’t really – it’s just that many of the residents really really do like their food. And when you see the prices and aggressive marketing techniques, it’s no great surprise. Take soda, and this poster I kept encountering:
That’s 45p in UK money for a medium-sized bucket of liquid sugar. Why on earth would anyone need that much? Possibly to wash this down:
And so I spent a week wandering around a city in which pedestrians fit into one of only three categories:
- 25 stone and over, waddling, tending to wear very baggy t-shirts and smocks
- thin, healthy, obviously fitness fanatics, jogging, tending to wear very little to show off their abs and pecs
- a bit plump and badly dressed for the heatwave – obviously tourists such as me
But there are big differences between the cities. I had more expensive (by US standards) tickets for baseball in Chicago and Seattle. In Chicago, all the areas of the baseball stadium sold relentlessly unhealthy foods:
However, in Seattle, upstairs had a noticeably different selection of food stands, some selling salads, fruit bowls, lo-fat meals. In my three days in Seattle, though most of it was admittedly spent either at Microsoft or stuck in insane traffic, the obesity count was very low. Restaurants – with the notable exception of the awesome cheesecake factory, predominated in salads, fruit, healthy options. Unlike Chicago, where massive portions and toppings and sauces probably made in a cement mixer were rife. My first pizza downtown was in a darkly lit, cheap restaurant. Said pizza – which cost less than 4 pounds in UK money – arrived at my table with some rather small cutlery. Insert fork into pizza. Fork disappears, like a dinosaur being swallowed by a tar pit. It turns out that Chicago is proud of its deep pizzas. Not deep in the disappointing and misleading “Deep Pan Pizza” that UK restaurants advertise, but deep as in probably requires a lifeguard to make sure small people don’t fall in and get into difficulties.
So while Seattle is the city of fruit, veg, skinny coffee and sushi:
…Chicago tended to be more the city of “Big is best”. In many senses of the word. By day three I was demanding a “Childs portion” for my one-course meals. However, not everyone in America’s third largest city is an out-and-out tubster. Go down to the shore, and you’ll see plenty of people cycling, rollerblading, jogging, or swimming manically up and down:
Why the American obsession with food? Several observations:
- The amount of choice and variety is overwhelming.
- Convenience. Shops, cafes, restaurants, Starbucks everywhere. Online shopping is commonplace, and even Amazon are doing grocery deliveries in Seattle.
- Food is ridiculously cheap. Most meals cost me less than 10 dollars – that’s less than 5 pounds in UK money. Even a deliberately blow-out French meal cost 13 UK pounds. You simply can’t eat at those prices in most of Europe, especially in the UK.
- Advertising is in-your-face, everywhere. At the baseball, one of the between-innings event was a staged race where people guessed the winner. The contestants? A big mac, a box of fries, and some other MacDonalds product. You had to be there.
The food and obesity thing also affects clothes sizes. I’m between a UK L and XL for shirts and t-shirts. In Finland, I tried on an XL shirt, to find I couldn’t breath, and had to find the next size up. In Chicago, an XL shirt gave me the feeling of being inside a tent; M was the better fit. For amusement I tried on an XXXL in an American department store; there was so much material I had to clambour backwards out of it (I should have gone in with a rope and guide). Afterthought: maybe there’s a connection with the lack of open drunkeness in the US, compared to the UK. Here, alcohol is cheap and food expensive. Ergo, lots of drunk people, as evidenced in any town or city on a friday or saturday night. In the US, it’s the other way around with food cheap and alcohol not so cheap (and in a lot of places, no booze for under 21s). Ergo, I saw only 2 drunk people in over a week. Hmmm.