So, we do what we can. Let's just talk portion size a little bit. I've recently complained about the insanely huge portion sizes I received the other day at a traditional American diner, on an occasion when I was deliberately trying to order something small. Imagine if I had tried to maximize my value! What a platter I could have had!
It seemed to me that the best way to gain perspective on our American restaurant portions was to consult the impressions of international travelers and freshly minted residents who may be new to our overstuffed way of life. My reading immediately became anecdotal and complicated. However, one theme immediately leapt out: behind our backs, foreigners joke among themselves about how "everything is bigger in America." (That's a link to a 5-minute video of young people browsing the produce section for the first time at an American mega-supermarket. Oh dear, oh dear.) Not only platters are bigger, but onions, cars, houses, and waistlines. As well as the country itself, whose sheer land area defeats the imagination of travelers from many smaller nations.
But, definitely, platters. And drinks. Because McDonald's gives us a standardized product against which to measure relative portions, much has been made of the difference in soda cup size among nations. In a short and unnecessarily manic video, the Daily Mail shows us that U.S. "large"-sized cups are 1.5 times the size of those sold in Japan. "'For soda, the glasses [in the U.S.] are huge," says [Anne-Pierre] Pickaert, a native of France. 'It's like a vase. I can't see how somebody can be so thirsty. [...] A milk container here looks like a petrol container in France,' says Pickaert, 'even the way it has that handle.' In France, the biggest [milk container] you can get is a liter and a half."
Another way that Americans are encouraged to eat more: buy in bulk. And the thing is, we are so accustomed to this cultural phenomenon that we do not even notice that it might seem irrational to others. For instance, this Indian immigrant says:
For example, at a typical store:
- The way that stores price their products makes no apparent economic sense, and is not linear at all.
- 1 can of coke : $1.00
- 12 cans of coke : $3.00
- 1 Häagen-Dazs ice cream bar : $3.00
- 12 Häagen-Dazs ice cream bars : $7.00
Americans are encouraged to buy in bulk, which often leads to a lot of waste.
Moving away a bit from portion size, international visitors comment on other aspects of the American diet that lead to overconsumption of calories. Asian travelers, in particular, complain about the calorie-dense nature of American food. A Chinese nutritionist who had recently relocated to the U.S. said "'I couldn't get full [...] I'm used to the bulk in the Chinese diet'— clear soup with a lot of vegetables, for instance, that lend satiety without adding a lot of calories." A skinny Chinese international student was astounded by the amount of sugar on offer: "The desserts in America are much sweeter than I expected before I actually came here and tasted it. Some sweets are like choking on sugar and American chefs are really generous on using sugar. [...] Looking back, I was amazed by how sweet my shake from Dairy Queen was compared to the same thing that I got in China; same with the regular cookies, donuts, etc. But by now I have totally gotten used to the sweetness and enjoy it."
(Incidentally. There is a large Salvadorean immigrant population here in my area, and, man, do those people have a lot of bakeries and pastry shops. And pupuserias. Mainly serving other Salvadorean immigrants. So I can't claim that the U.S. is the only country with such a calorie-dense food culture. But even the Salvadorean sweet buns, of which there are many varieties, seem to me only "lightly sweet" compared to your typical American pastry.)
Finally, I will leave you with the words of another, possibly Brazilian?, commenter, who focuses on the overall infantilization of American food culture: "Infantile and convenient food (and I'm not talking about the fast food): no bones, no spines, hardly ever find an entire fish, it's mostly filets, very little diversity (little lamb, or duck, hardly ever rabbit, and for fish it's almost always tuna, salmon, haddock and bass), seedless everything. A lot of things (not desserts) are sweetened, like honey smoked, glazed, etc. Even desserts sometimes look like 5-y.o. were left alone in the kitchen: cookie dough ice cream, oreo cheese cake..."
I will attest that I am, as charged, by-and-large too lazy to eat fish with spines or grapes with seeds. Even watermelon is a drag. Does this mark me as quintessentially American: a nation of elementary-aged picky eaters who have grown up to consume adult quantities of fish sticks and "baby" carrots and ice cream sundaes? I sell plenty of chicken tenders to adults in my restaurant, lots of macaroni and cheese. There are people who want us to butter their toast for them, or cut their sandwiches into quarters. Maybe this guy has a point. Everybody's a baby in America. A giant baby.
This childlike food culture idea is making me rethink the whole smoothies-for-breakfast habit we have established lately. Could there be a more labor-free food delivery system? Fruits and vegetables you don't have to cut or peel yourself while eating, raw greens that don't need to be cooked or dressed, no utensils required... heck, you don't even have to chew. I recently bought us some stainless steel straws, in case sipping is too burdensome. Giant babies.