Only in the US

The American life seen through the eyes of an expat

Archive for the month “December, 2011”

Foodmax vs. Trader Joe’s

It is not a secret that—along with Mexicans, Brits and Germans—Americans are the heaviest people in the world. That struck me hard when I went shopping at the food discounter Foodmax for the first time. I feel comfortable when I state that at least eighty percent of the customers there were overweight, which I found stunning because you do not get to see any of this in the America that gets exported, namely Hollywood motion pictures. Judging by the kind of food the shoppers piled up in their carts, however, it is not surprising. I moved on to shop for bread and wine at Trader Joe’s, a chain of specialty grocery stores featuring a variety of organic products. I was baffled again as the buyers there were mostly thin. The same pattern could be seen in shopping malls – the Great Mall in San Jose sports a lot more obese clientele than the Palo Alto Mall, which is located in a rather rich neighborhood.  The thing is that in the States apparently only wealthy people and relatively well to do folks can afford the luxury of preparing healthy meals and exercising regularly. Fast food, on the other hand, is dirt cheap and an easy fix for stressed out moms and overworked nurses. It also comes in huge portions, but that is not necessarily restricted to fast food.

Let me give you an example. Being a coffee addict, one of the first places for me to check out was Starbucks. (I found it rather difficult to find good local coffee shops in the area I live, but that is on another note.) Their coffee is sold in three sizes: tall, grande and venti. There is no small, there is no medium. Another example: a small portion of yummy pho, Vietnamese noodle soup, is bigger than a large portion back in Vietnam and there is no way for an untrained person to finish it. That said—if you practice hard enough and put your mind to it, anything goes. And boy, do people get to practice! Olive Garden promises a never-ending pasta bowl, chicken wings are literally sold in bucket-sized containers, and the coke you buy at the cinema might be served to you in a 32-ounce cup—that is almost a liter!

This frenzy of unhealthy diet is almost impossible to avoid. The healthiest snack one could find after 10 pm is probably a salad sporting a few leaves along with chicken, cheese and even tacos, tossed in greasy ranch dressing. Even children are not spared. It came to a point that the First Lady, Michelle Obama, started a campaign against junk food in school cafeterias, trying to promote more nutritious options like vegetable curries instead of chicken nuggets or fresh fruit instead of potato chips. Apparently, this has led to a downright “undercover market” for fast food on the playground.

At the same time, there is a huge health hype here in the United States, which is mostly practiced by members of the so called middle class. Many people believe that the only really healthy food is organic food, which is widely available, especially here in the San Francisco Bay Area. (I, too, am a supporter of the latter, but more for environmental rather than health reasons.) Furthermore, there are great gym deals such as Fitness 24, which sells memberships for as low as twenty-five dollars a month and allows you to use any of its branches nationwide. There is really no more excuse for not working out, right? Then there is the widest range of activities available that one could ever dream of. There is surfing, white water rafting, snowboarding, hiking, cycling, Bollywood dancing, rock climbing, scuba diving and yoga, to mention just a few. You name it, you got it.

On that note, I am going to go work out at the gym now, then go for a drive to Dunkin’ Doughnuts and buy myself a box of chocolate glazed, custard filled pieces of pastry to undo the damage. Cheers.

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