Through the Eyes of a Stranger: American Eating Habits

This post is inspired by one written by Z.

There are many eating habits shared by North Americans that I find to be very strange. Here are some of them:

1. Eating what looks like bird seed for breakfast and believing that this ultra-sugary dried up artificial rubbish is good for one’s health and is even fit to be fed to children.

2.Eating while walking around or, even worse, running from one appointment to another. For many people, it’s a point of a weird sort of pride that they never have time to sit down to eat and gobble down their dinner from a can while standing over a sink. The truth is, though, that not having time for a normal, sit-down meal doesn’t mean you are hard-working. It means you don’t know how to manage your time, and this is hardly anything to be proud of.

At the Atwater market in Montreal. Is there anything better than fresh fruit?

3. Feeding the worst, most unhealthy crap to little children. I was at a wedding recently, and the food was pretty great. We had a nice salad and a number of good, healthy food options. The kids, however, had a plate of chicken nuggets (a vile, disgusting thing that no kid should even know about) and French fries plopped in front of them. Why fries and nuggets should be considered appropriate food for kids is baffling to me. If anybody should be fed in a healthy way it’s children.

4. Giving kids juice that is made from concentrate, is extremely high in sugar content, and has been stuck on a shelf for God knows how long while thinking that this is somehow healthy. Buying an orange or an apple and squeezing your own juice or making your own apple puree takes no time whatsoever, so there is no excuse to give children the concentrate garbage instead. And then people look at these poor kids who are hopped-up on sugar and convince themselves they have ADD and have to be medicated.

5. Choosing the hottest possible weather to gather around a barbecue to grill stuff. If there is ever a time one can’t possible feel like a piece of grilled meat, it has to be high heat. Not so for the Americans.

This is just a tiny portion of the enormous sea food counter at my mother's favorite grocery store in Montreal. If only I had something similar where I live!

6. Smothering salads in heavy, very salty sauces. All a fresh salad needs is a teaspoon of olive oil and maybe a few drops of balsamic vinegar. Pouring a heavy sauce that has been stuck on a shelf for months or years on top of fresh vegetables simply kills the vegetables.

7. Thinking that huge chunks of barely shredded lettuce and a sad piece of cucumber here and there make a salad.

8. This is, of course, a matter of personal preference but there are some American foodstuffs that I find to be just bizarre. Peanut butter and beef jerky are my favorite examples. How can anybody eat that? I love both peanuts and beef with a passion, so it saddens me that these great foods should be tortured into such weird concoctions.

9. Hamburgers are delicious if made right. But they are never fit to be eaten in public. Unless, of course, you eat them with a fork and a knife like I do. 🙂

10. Thinking that if you combine the contents of a few cans together, you’ll come up with dinner. One’s main sources of nutrition should never come from cans or boxes. Even if it seems cheaper to make, say, mashed potatoes by using a box mix than real potatoes (actually, it isn’t cheaper at all), think of how much money you’ll spend on a doctor after you eat this crap for a while.

It isn’t surprising that nowhere else in the world are you going to meet nearly as many obese people as here in the US. If you have had a chance to spend any time at all traveling abroad, you can’t deny there is huge issue with obesity in this country that is non-existent in other places. And if you look at these eating habits,you can’t be very surprised. It’s fashionable nowadays to pretend that the high rates of obesity that plague this country have nothing to do with what and how people eat. Certain pseudo-liberals especially love to engage in this willful blindness.

Of course, the quality of food is also pretty abysmal everywhere in the US except, maybe, the really big cities on the East Coast. My sister and her family were recently on a trip to Florida and they simply couldn’t eat anything. They tried all kinds of restaurants but the food was uneatable for their Canadian palates and stomachs. When I compare farmers’ markets in Montreal with the farmer’s market here in Edwardsville, the land of farmers, I almost turn green with envy.

59 thoughts on “Through the Eyes of a Stranger: American Eating Habits”

  1. Beef jerky is actually a modern incarnation of pemmican, which American aboriginals of the Plains ate, including my maternal ancestors (Who were Blackfoot) The real stuff is delicious, but I find it better to make it myself using my own cure and meat, because too many packaged versions of jerky use a maple cure or soy sauce and sugar in theirs, which ruins the meat. Also, I much prefer using elk or bison meat than beef.
    As for the chicken nuggets and fries, it’s de facto to serve children stuff like that (Look at a children’s menu of any restaurant, even nice ones, and you will see hot dogs, mac and cheese, chicken nuggets, and grilled cheese sandwiches, fish fingers, and nothing else) because it’s believed that’s all children will eat, because they haven’t developed palates that can appreciate flavour the way adults can. Since many kids are picky, they believe that the kids will throw a tantrum if they get served anything other than that.
    But really, how can they be expected to appreciate better food if that is all they are given to eat at school, home, and restaurants by adults?

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    1. Yes – gracias.

      I don’t remember the separate food for kids thing from childhood. It seems to be something started by people my age — separate table for kids where they eat junk food. Maybe they switched to junk food for themselves, too, and only eat real food when guests are there?

      Anyway, back in the day you just made the food a little simpler if there were smallish kids — fewer sauces, milder cheeses, that kind of thing.

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      1. “Maybe they switched to junk food for themselves, too, and only eat real food when guests are there?”

        -I think that’s a strong possibility. 🙂 At the wedding, a colleague’s small daughter looked at the nuggets and fries and whispered “Mami, y eso ¿qué es?” (Mommy, what is this?). 🙂 So the mother shared the salad with her. 🙂

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    2. ‘(Look at a children’s menu of any restaurant, even nice ones, and you will see hot dogs, mac and cheese, chicken nuggets, and grilled cheese sandwiches, fish fingers, and nothing else”

      -I was shocked when I noticed that. Poor kids.

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  2. My wife and I find it appalling that people take pride now in not being able to cook – that they have to eat from a box or a can. I work part-time at a grocery store, and it’s mind-boggling how many people come in and buy PANCAKE mix – good lord, my kids could make their own pancakes from scratch before they were 7!

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    1. I couldn’t agree more! Cooking is also a great way to be creative for those of us who are not artistically gifted. It’s relaxing, it’s a great way to unwind. And pancakes? Very easy to make on your own. And nobody can say it’s all that time-consuming.

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        1. Not really, at least not here. Groceries of any edible quality are HIGH, gas is HIGH to get them and the cost of utilities is HIGH, and restaurants get them wholesale. There are full home cooked meals for sale on the street corner for $3.50, however (some cost up to $8, but are enough for two people).
          In that panorama cooking yourself is a luxury, depending of
          course on what you bill per hour … (more than it would cost
          to go find all those groceries and cook them, most likely).

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          1. After I saw my mother pay for gas in Montreal, I’ll never again complain about the price of gas here. It’s insanely expensive there.

            On the positive side, nobody in Montreal really needs to drive.

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          2. “Groceries of any edible quality are HIGH”

            -Very true. But as I said, doctors are not cheap either. And I can’t eat at cheaper restaurants because the salt level is also extremely high. I’m trying to live as salt-free as possible because of my high BP. And actually, it hasn’t been high for many months because of my healthy eating habits. 🙂

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    2. Some are convinced it is unhygienic. If it isn’t from a box then it reminds him too much of the living things from which it was created, says one of my informants. Also, it’s important that it be exactly the same all the time, 100% predictable, he says.

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      1. I think that having no idea of how the food on your plate is made and divorcing it in your mind from the nature it came from is psychologically unhealthy and leads to very unhealthy relationship with food. I’m very glad that I was born in the culture of cooking everything from scratch. It enriches my existence on a daily basis.

        And the tactile sensations of cooking? They are just priceless. No comparison to wielding a can opener. 🙂

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      2. “If it isn’t from a box then it reminds him too much of the living things from which it was created, says one of my informants. Also, it’s important that it be exactly the same all the time, 100% predictable, he says.”

        I’m a little confused by your tone… is there a chance you’re not being sarcastic, and this really what a person said about processed, packaged food? And that it is a view held by more than one person?

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    1. I know!!! The first time I went grocery shopping in Indiana, I was shocked to see how much space in the store was given to frozen and canned stuff compared to the tiny little counter with fresh meats. As for seafood, there was none. How can one be expected to live without fresh seafood, I ask?

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      1. Indiana is arguably the very worst state for this.

        But as any marine biologist will tell you, you shouldn’t eat fish — very high levels of mercury now due to the pollution, and the planet is almost fished out. Time to leave the fishies alone
        and let stocks grow. My favorite food, of course, but that’s the
        actual situazione.

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        1. Shouldn’t we eat “ugly fishes” instead of, say, Chilean bass? That would allow stocks of dangered species to grow.

          I read that somewhere but I don’t remember where.

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          1. I just don’t see what the alternative is. Beef is said to be horrible for the environment like nothing else. Chickens are grown in horrible conditions. There is pork, but I don’t eat it.

            And eating from cans can’t be very good for the environment either.

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            1. If there’s a farmer’s market, see what they have to offer, smaller farms are always better for animal welfare, and grass fed beef tastes miles better than corn fed beef anyways.
              I don’t know how realistic it is for where you are living, but there’s also the option of bison, which is easier on the planet, and eating their meat provides an economic incentive for farmers to keep the species going. There’s also wild game birds, like pheasant and guineafowl, usually available at a farmer’s market.
              And of course, rabbit. 🙂

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            2. Grass fed beef and organic chickens. Pork is a lot cleaner than chickens now and organic / kosher / halal chickens are needed!
              They are frozen in health food stores and I know for sure there are fresh halal chickens in Champaign if not closer. This corn fed meats are 2-3 times as bad as the others. Alternative, one is supposed to go Vegan. Cans, *at least* recycle. You, must stop using disposable roasting pans, it’s devastating to do that kind of thing.

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              1. I only used such a pan this once and already heard a long lecture about the wastefulness from my husband. The funny thing is that I only bought it to save him the trouble of washing up afterwards. But it seems like the kind gesture was not appreciated. 🙂

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          2. I listened to a show on NPR yesterday that promoted eating lionfish caught in Florida. Apparently, they are invasive and far too plentiful, so the more we eat, the better. Also, they grow so fast that I suspect that they do not have time to concentrate much mercury in their flesh.

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  3. The logic behind the bbq in summer is that it is cooler than a hot stuffy kitchen with the oven going full blast. Obviously, there are other solutions to this problem :-). With the exception of bbq, peanut butter, and cereal (which is not always full of sugar (oatmeal? shredded wheat?) and is definitely not always viewed as healthy) the Americans I know do not eat this way. I know there are some Americans who eat this way, as I see their carts in the grocery store. However, I question that these are “eating habits shared by North Americans,” especially when your examples of good places are in Canada!

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    1. I eat oatmeal. But I eat the real kind that you have to cook for 40 minutes, not the stuff from instant packages. A think that a fresh doughnut would be better than this packaged stuff, honestly.

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      1. Instant “oatmeal” is not oatmeal, it is some sort of nasty inedible mush. I got it by accident once (I asked for oatmeal at someone’s house, not knowing this instant stuff existed) and was appalled. I would definitely rather eat a fresh donut.

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  4. I have never really understood the American obsession with feeding children “special kid’s food” either. Where I come from, kids after the age of 1 or 2 just eat whatever everyone else eats; it makes for a much more healthy and balanced diet, I believe.

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      1. Have either of you noticed why children are given different food? Is there a reason? It cannot be labour efficiency, since the family needs to cook two separate kinds of things for the same meal. It cannot be ‘natural’ and clearly it is not because it is ‘healthy’, so why is this done?

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        1. It seems like the assumption is that children will refuse to eat normal food. Child-feeding is also a huge part of the sacrificial parenthood trend I discussed earlier. There is supposed to be a huge drama about feeding children, during which exhausted parents just give up and hand them a box of coveted nuggets.

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        2. In Victorian type England, in the comfortable enough classes, there was the children’s meal – simple food, gruel, porridge, things like that – in the evening, earlier, and then the adults would eat. It seems we’ve gone back to that, but with chicken nuggets.

          You have to accustom kids to new foods, and it can take a little bit of effort. Also, young ones don’t always do well with
          complicated dishes. You can simplify what you’re cooking so that it’s suitable for a general audience, and ramp back up
          to spicy stews and things like that around the time they’re
          getting their permanent teeth — this seems to coincide with
          being up for trying “weird” foods and being generally more
          grown up.

          It seems that people don’t want to bother with the “here’s a food, let’s see if you like it” thing and just give them nuggets so they can eat something spicy or otherwise non kid friendly.

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  5. I’ve always been confused about so-called “kids’ food” myself. If you want you kid to ask for things that are not processed garbage sure to make them diabetic at some point, feed it to them. geez, what do they think kids did before processed foods? Starve until they reached some magical tastebud-growth-age where they did not barf at the idea of a vegetable?

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  6. Agreed! I am a zero when it comes to cooking, but preparing purees and other simple but nutritious meals for my daughter was easy even for me. Recently when I gave her a chicken nugget (because we were at my friends’ house and that’s what they give their kids) she made a face and spat it out. I was beyond relieved and gave her the fruit and berries we had brought with us.

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    1. When I see a child eating fruit and berries and enjoying it, I always get a warm and fuzzy feeling. 🙂 When I see your child doing anything, I also get a warm and fuzzy feeling. 🙂

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      1. “When I see your child doing anything, I also get a warm and fuzzy feeling.”

        Hello. My Name is Chris Hansen. Why don’t you take a Seat over there ?

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  7. I have another question about food. Are there other countries besides the US where people keep tons of it around in their houses?

    I don’t. I mean, I always have coffee, tea, olive oil, rice, salt, and those sorts of things around. But I don’t have a full refrigerator, or freezer, or pantry, and if I go and do a huge shopping I then tend not to do it again until I’ve eaten it all up.

    I’ve spent a lot of time in Mediterranean and post Mediterranean countries and people there do the same. Especially if they work and lunch is the main meal — you go get the menu del dia with your colleagues at 3 PM and then just have a light supper at home, and only really cook on the weekends. Go to the feria on Saturday, cook Saturday and Sunday, then have things around for the week, and by the next Saturday your shelves are bare again.

    But in US houses, the refrigerator and shelves are often full to the gills, yet people still go and buy more and eat that. Which food shopping strategy is more typical, and where?

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    1. I now have a pantry and I get huge anxiety issues if it isn’t filled to bursting capacity. We have a legacy of organized starvation in Ukraine where people ate their children (in 1931-2) and millions died. Even psychoanalysts have to be informed that one is Ukrainian and that we have a legacy of being very traumatized about food. There are some areas in Russia where people have a similar collective memory, so their attitude towards food is that of hoarding and freaking out if you are about to run out of something insignificant.

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  8. I wonder then what the US hoarding is about, since people don’t come from famine. Or maybe they do.

    I’m not talking about those who have megastock for practical reasons, but the ones who just have it to have it. I know people who literally have to unpack their cabinets to find the item they want.

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    1. I’m one of those who have to have but bit, as I said, I recognize that I’m psychologically disturbed on the issue.

      In the US, it might be part of the whole consumerist way of being? YOu have to buy because you just have to? I might be wrong here, of course.

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  9. That’s a great post but it didn’t take my comment because I’m not correctly logged in. Fear of tropical rot, yes, that’s one reason I don’t keep piles of food around. Then there’s just those Mediterranean habits – small refrigerators, few cabinets, funny little kitchens in urban apartments or beachy little cottages, fish and vegetable sellers on carts nearby. But the tropical rot is the main problem.

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  10. Cutting salt is the single most effective way to lower BP. Also, my native diet — rice (with the starchy water drained), lentil soup, lots of vegetables in a mildly seasoned stir-fry, and white fish in very low-spiced broth — is one of the most balanced meals, in my experience.

    Prof. Zero — I will be reposting these on my new blog. Do drop by! Also, I left a comment on your Krishna post — I think it’s stuck in your spam 😦

    Like

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