Food Talk And Fabulous Finds - I think America has an eating disorder.

09-18-2010, 07:27 AM
I've now lived in Japan for 9 months. I've learned a lot. Seen a lot. Made some major observations. Japanese people are thin. Yes, some of this may be good genes but I don't think it's all of it, or even most of it. Here's why.

People eat real food. Every morning there is a line outside the supermarket before it opens. The people do their chores, hang their laundry out, and go to the market. They buy what they need for the day and come home and cook it. There is a line at the fish counter. Most of the shopping carts are full of fresh fish, fresh produce, and rice. Processed foods are available, yes, but they seem to be seen for what they are, treats, not food. Preservatives, HFCS, genetically engineered crap... not so common. You can't buy soda in 2 liter bottles or in 24 packs. If you want a soda you can buy a soda... but ONE soda at a time.

It's taboo to walk around on the street eating. People don't do it. If you want to eat a meal you sit down at a restaurant and eat a meal or you go home and cook yourself something. OR, better yet, they bring a Bento lunch and find a place to sit down and eat it. Rice, Fish, Veggies.

Fast food is rare. Yes, we have McDonald's but there's no drive through. People don't order HUGE hamburger sets with a giant fries and a giant drink. Most of the people I see in McDonald's grab a small burger and a green tea and sit down to eat it. There aren't really any commercials on TV bragging about things like the "Taco Bell 4th meal" or "Monster bacon whatever Burger." People know where they like to eat and they eat there. Sushi, Ramen, Beef Bowl... Some of it may be a little fatty but nearly all of it is REAL FOOD.

People walk or ride their bikes EVERYWHERE. I spend more time when I'm out driving dodging pedestrians than I do dodging other vehicles. There are 90 year old women who can barely stand hoofing it home from the market with full bags. If they want to get somewhere they GET SOMEWHERE. It's impressive.

So yeah, I've learned a lot. In Japan food is something you eat for fuel. Much of it is delicious but the whole day does not revolve around getting a fix. This doesn't seem to be the truth in America. It'll be a struggle for me to come back. It's really opened my eyes!

09-18-2010, 07:56 AM
Thank you for sharing this! Fascinating. I hope you'll be able to tell us more.
(Congratulations on your success, too!)

09-18-2010, 09:06 AM
I agree, that's interesting. If you don't mind me asking, what led you to Japan for 9 months?

09-18-2010, 09:27 AM
I'll be here for 3 more years :). My husband is in the Navy.

09-18-2010, 10:51 AM
Thank you for sharing this. It sounds like Americans could learn a lesson. Unfortunately I don't think the country as a whole will ever adopt better habits. The lifestyle is so different, and think of all the companies that would go out of business if they weren't promoting a "fast" way to lose weight! Not to mention all the junk food companies. The economy would tank.

09-18-2010, 10:56 AM
It's true, but it sure is interesting! It's sure made me think twice about what I put in my mouth.

09-18-2010, 11:15 AM
This is interesting. I think it has as much to do with the activity level there as the food itself.

My husband and I were talking about this the other day, in relation to how America USED to be. His granny has always, and always will, cook high-fat foods. Went out to lunch the other day and she ordered what I had - a grilled chicken breast with veggies and a salad. She's 85 years old and can cook like nobody's business - but said "I LOVE this type of food but I don't know how to cook it." :?: We told her it's easy to grill, but even if she didn't grill a breast she could put a couple in the crock pot to cook. She said she has before, but it's not healthy....

Why is it not healthy? She coats the crock pot with Crisco from a can. She cooks everything with it - even canned corn has solid Crisco in it.

So this got us thinking. He thought back and realized that his granny cooked this way forever - lard, whole milk, cream, not-light butter, fried stuff. She's in her mid-80s, and his granddad was in his 80s when he died (Alzheimer's related problems - not health). They're both healthy as horses and have always been.

Even my grandparents used to eat that way, and we always heard of the "good" food they'd cook and eat growing up and as younger adults, etc. My husband's granddad ate homemade gravy - bacon or sausage grease with flour and whole milk/buttermilk - EVERY SINGLE DAY.

But here's the catch - they MOVED. They worked on the farm and walked places when they were younger. They got out of bed early in the morning and went into the garden. There was constant activity - none of this sitting around on the computer, constant texting/talking on the phone, playing video games, watching TV or whatever.

And they weren't fat or horribly unhealthy. Go figure...

09-18-2010, 11:17 AM
I recently spoke to a Chinese girl who is in America on a student exchange program and she expressed the same thing. She said Americans "like the frozen foods, the boxes and the cans" but in China her mother and aunts go to the market every day and shop for fresh foods. The American diet truly is horrifying!

(How exciting to spend time living in Japan, ValRock! Are you enjoying it?)

09-18-2010, 11:22 AM
My SIL came back from Japan (she was teaching via the JET program) saying much the same thing, although in the context of one of the other teachers who basically suffered culture shock and had to return home. I had kinda forgotten until I read your post, which has helped put it into the context of my eating. Would be interested in reading more as your stay progresses.

09-18-2010, 11:23 AM
I find this all very interesting too. I think for me as an American...I'm lazy and yes...moving more is a huge key for me. I've spent time in Germany when I was in high school and they are the same with walking everywhere and only buying what they needed for the day at the store. They bought soda for me...but never had it otherwise. So many differences that make you wonder. They also ate the main meal mid day and light light dinners. Really fascinating topic and observations. Thanks!

09-18-2010, 12:34 PM
In France and Germany there food is not very healthy at all. The Germans eat beef/pork sausage and French has butter in almost everything but the key I think is they walk, walk and walk almost everywhere. Here in the States people don't hardley walk or exercise at all and they eat a lot of Fast Food. Also, our portions are way out of wack, especially at restaraunts like Claim Jumpers.

09-18-2010, 12:47 PM
One of my favorite books that I own is "Japanese Women Don't Get Old and Fat." I eat a ton of recipes from there, and I found it an all around interesting read.

My best friend in high school was a Japanese exchange student. She gained like forty pounds in the year she was here. (She still looked freaking gorgeous, she was a STICK when she got here. Looked like a little boy. By the time prom came the guys were like *tongue drops out of head*)

But she lost it all as soon as she went home to Japan.

One thing that threw Mykha off was when she first came here and was served a plate of food. She was used to many tiny little serving dishes, and that huge mountain of food all on one platter looked like something that would be set in the middle of the table for the family to share.

I remember another time, she came to my house for dinner and my father was grilling steaks. He pulled the first one off the grill and she got a knife and fork to cut us all a piece and my dad kind of looked at her funny as he comes in the door with the other THREE steaks. One for each of us. She looked at us like we were out of our fraking minds. She would NEVER eat that much meat in a sitting.

She also missed fish, and found sweets too sweet. Her favorite things in the world were "animal cookies" (She thought it funny we consider them crackers) and of all things, tomato sauce. OMG that girl could sit and eat cold ragu out of a can with a spoon, and often did. She kept saying tomato sauce doesn't taste like this back home. (probably because ours is full of sugar and other bad stuff LOL)

Anyway. I loved her, and it was really interesting to see the different ways we looked at food.

09-18-2010, 01:53 PM
I keep thinking how our eating habits are all tangled up in our living habits, and our living habits are reflected by & reinforced by our infrastructure -- I mean, how close together the houses are built, and whether there are sidewalks, and whether there are small villages with storefronts, rather than big box stores isolated from everything like little islands on a sea of parking lot.

My grandmother lived in an older city with sidewalks & in the downtown was a shopping district and just outside it were the factories where her family was employed. For decades, they simply didn't own a car. They walked to the market, they walked to work, they walked school and to the library, they walked to the downtown movie theater. Or they actually took a street car to the far end of town, to their church's cemetery, and had to walk the last couple miles. This wasn't shocking. This was how their neighbors also lived. Never mind a teenage kid getting a car -- many adult families didn't even have one.

But this was made possible by their living environment -- as I said, this was an older city, settled in the 1790s, growing up slowly through the 1800s, until when my grandmother was a teenager, in the 1920s, all these things had come into being in the downtown & right on the outskirts of town. They were located where people lived & where people could walk to them. A grocer would not have located itself way out, in the middle of former farmland -- no one would have gone there.

The answer to changing our lifestyle is entwined in hundreds of choices, from where we live, to how much we drive, to how far we're willing to go to shop, and even how much we shop & when.

When I started trying to live healthily, there were things I had to give up. Mostly downtime & leisure activities. I had to accommodate a lot more shopping -- fresh produce doesn't hold out as long. I had to accommodate a lot more time for food preparation. I had to work out a way to have food already made on those many nights when I do not get in the door till 8:30 PM. Because I have to commute to work, and I have to work 11-hour days sometimes -- those were my choices, based on the kind of job I'm good at & that pays for the things I like. My grandmother's family made different choices, and that was to have many children, who went to work early (like after eighth grade) & whose earnings all fed into the family economy for many years. Their teenage job earnings came from factory work, or domestic service -- not McDonalds or clerks in clothing stores -- and got handed to their parents; together with my great-grandfather's pay, they pretty much enabled my great-grandmother to stay home & spend all day walking to the market or cooking, or taking in laundry & sewing from neighbors for extra $$. I don't have that unit going. I'm the one making the money here.

Now I'm ranging off track, but I'm saying, the American unhealthy lifestyle evolved over time through a plethora of choices. Wealth, as opposed to Japan's post-World War II hardship & poverty; cars for everyone; everyone requiring a separate house with a big lawn; needing $$ to have this, and everyone working, and always working later; wanting cheap food, going to big box stores for it, and those stores locating themselves on cheap real estate, far out in the country, to keep prices low. It's all a tangled mess.

The only way to untangle it is through a series of small individual choices: I will walk places. I will ride a bike. I will commit to buying this particular food. I will change my way of eating.

Then we look weird, like we're the ones with the eating disorder or with a thing about self-denial. When maybe we are finally waking up from some great nationwide delusion & striking out on our own, toward our own vision of health.

09-18-2010, 02:24 PM
I'm in Canada, not the US. Even though our countries are so similar - same TV, same commercials, nearly the same restaurants, same lifestyle, etc. even then are there some really obvious differences, just going 5 minutes south of the border.

Your (USA) "regular" sodas/pops are equivalent to our "large" in size. The food ordered at regular restaurants (ie Shari's, Old Country Buffet) are larger and have more butter/sauce on them than any restaurants up here. The fast food/convenience foods are a lot cheaper (even with exchange rates considered). If you ever check nutritional information, you'll see quite a few restaurants have both a Canadian and American (separate) section. Look closely, you'll be surprised at the difference.

And that's just Canada and the US! But most of all, it's the activity levels coinciding with the increased portions.

09-18-2010, 08:50 PM
I just find it all fascinating. Thanks for your input!

I'm untangling a lot of old notions of what healthy is, here... It's been culture shock!

I wish we could get back to the time in the US when people prepared food and used fresh ingredients and ate things that were healthful foods and not a tub of chemicals. That'll probably never happen... and that's why the obesity problem will not get better. It makes me sad.

09-18-2010, 09:41 PM
I don't believe that the American lifestyle and obesity epidemic are inevitable or hopeless. The common lifestyle can change for the better, and it wouldn't necessarily "tank" the economy any more than automobiles replacing horse-drawn carriages did (although there were folks warning that it would). As some businesses went out of business, other businesses would take their places.

We do have some nation-wide health-improvement trends, but they're the minority (right now), but the minority can become the majority. Of course change has to be triggered by individuals (most majorities started as minorities).

Right now, not everyone can prepare food using fresh ingredients - but most people can improve their current habits. The more people who make the change, the more popular the change will be and the more people will join "the movement."

None of us can change the world ourselves, but we can make changes for ourselves. We can get excited about our changes and tell other people and hopefully get a few more excited about it too.

When I was growing up in the 70's, you were lucky to find three varieties of apple in any grocery store. You were lucky to find more than six or seven types of fruit (not to mention varieties of each fruit) at any one time.

Changing our food and lifestyle habits as a country, wouldn't be an easy or a quick change, but I don't think it's an impossible one, but it will take people who believe change is possible and who are willing to change whether or not anyone else follows.

09-19-2010, 01:08 AM
I love this thread - it's been so interesting to read. I've always found it so ironic that when traveling, it's impossible to find "Diet" and "Light" items in some places, though the people in those countries are so much healthier than we are in the U.S.

I hate having to go grocery shopping but it's worth the trouble to eat healthier :)

09-19-2010, 02:37 AM
this is an interesting observation you have here!

my roommate is a Chinese classmate of mine (when you get into the science fields its rare to find Americans LOL). Even though I studied in China in undergrad, I didn't quite grasp all the differences as much as living with her now for the last year. For example, your comment you noticed about REAL food, I didn't get that til she was living with me.

She was helping me cook a lasagna (I was introducing her to my less healthy Italian heritage) and I handed her the can of sauce and a can opener. (because thats how I rock my "authenticish" Italian lasagna, out of cans! My aunts make the homemade fresh sauce, but my life is busy! Give me a break!)

I turned around a few minutes later to see her attacking the can in a very unusual fashion. I asked her what she was doing and she was all embarrassed and confessed she had no idea what she was trying to do. She'd never seen a can before!

Turns out, she only ever ate fresh or jarred foods.

Interesting! And way healthier! She's taught me a ton the last year. Its good to learn from other cultures.

Thanks for sharing and enjoy your time there!

09-20-2010, 12:10 AM
I lived and worked in South Korea for three years before coming back to Canada this past year. I found coming back to be a culture shock in many ways, more specifically the portion sizes are much bigger here. In Korea they eat fish, and rice as staples. Fish is quite heart healthy (omega 3's).

People are very busy, and many people walk and take the subway around the city. Fast food is available (even delivers), and many kids play video games in all night internet cafes. I think the Asian genetics play a big part in being thin, along with their diet.

In Canada (US as well), we are bombarded by the media to eat junk food, and fast food. I tend to think some people are brainwashed into eating what they are told to eat to an extent. It doesn't help that junk food is readily available, and cheaper than a lot of healthy food. I always gain weight when I come back to Canada from Asia. Mostly because of the change of food type, and the portion sizes.

As you mentioned, I found the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables everywhere. I had a fruit/veggie stand right outside my apartment building. I would get up, go outside, pick up a watermelon and tomatoes for my breakfast. Many other Asian countries that I have been to also have fresh fruit everywhere (they grow them in many SEAsian countries). How I miss the fresh and sweet fruit that I ate all the time when I was working in Thailand.

Good luck in Japan.

09-20-2010, 12:55 AM
Yeah, well here in Australia we are becoming more and more like the US everyday. There are less ingredients in our pantry and much more handy foods.
When I was in travelling in USA in 2009 I noticed some big differences just between Aus and USA.
1. How much sugar is in your bread - it's so sweet? So sweet I couldn't eat it.
2. Your portion sizes are incredible, i"d much rather pay 2/3 price for half the food. I have a very very large appetite for an Aussie, but I couldn't finish any meal I when I ate out.
3. Why do people add powdered stuff to their coffee rather than just low fat milk?
4. My cousins who had moved to the USA for 3 years were driving to the other side of Raleigh to go to a boutique fruit and vege shop - to get something that had any flavour (and thus nutrients?)

09-20-2010, 02:11 AM
I notice a big difference in TV advertising when I come home to the US. Europe and the Middle Eastern Gulf countries have a lot of the same fast food chains and junk food (Frito Lay etc.) as in the US. But you hardly ever see them advertised on TV; the food ads you see are local companies that are in fierce competition for the same niche, like the two or three major yogurt or ice cream companies in Greece. And those commercials tend to be more old fashioned, playing on the heritage aspect or family sentiment -- except for ice cream bars which are advertised with mild sexiness! being eaten by cheerful attractive young ladies! The food is always shown in normal portions (small for US, lol!) and there tend not to be closeup shots of it.

I actually find it a little gross now when I'm watching American TV; every twelve minutes lingering focus shots of gooey cheese or glistening ground beef on the screen.

I agree that processed foods (particularly the frozen processed pizza roll etc category) are a much bigger part of the typical groceries in the US then elsewhere, although in the last 5-10 years this is increasingly reaching these markets. They are literally having to remodel or build new, larger groceries to accommodate -- many countries in Europe and the Gulf literally didn't have "super"markets a few years ago -- you would go to a butcher for meat, a bakery for bread, a noodle maker for noodles etc.

And in many ways it does make life a lot easier, I have to admit. I remember my first trip to a Greek grocery as a student and not being able to find a single canned soup or tomato sauce! Did they really make it all from scratch?! But it's true what was said upthread: we're trading salaried labor so we have cash to buy the stuff, for someone doing the labor at home cooking and growing things and walking to the market in earlier days.

09-20-2010, 01:57 PM
People eat real food. Every morning there is a line outside the supermarket before it opens. The people do their chores, hang their laundry out, and go to the market. They buy what they need for the day and come home and cook it.

Didn't I hear somewhere, too that fridges aren't common b/c everything it bought fresh daily? (Or am I making this up in my head)

I think it is SO fascinating to hear how other countries do things differently.

I remember reading, too about how much modern conveniences have contributed to obesity. People don't push lawn mowers anymore, they buy ride on tractors. Snow blowers, plug in mixers, dish washers, laundry driers (instead of hanging outside), etc. Families own multiple cars and don't walk or ride bikes to get anywhere.

09-20-2010, 08:04 PM
Didn't I hear somewhere, too that fridges aren't common b/c everything it bought fresh daily? (Or am I making this up in my head)

I think it is SO fascinating to hear how other countries do things differently.

I remember reading, too about how much modern conveniences have contributed to obesity. People don't push lawn mowers anymore, they buy ride on tractors. Snow blowers, plug in mixers, dish washers, laundry driers (instead of hanging outside), etc. Families own multiple cars and don't walk or ride bikes to get anywhere.

The fridges here are MUCH smaller.

I really wish we could go back to the days when we gathered eggs and hung out the wash and walked to the market... Maybe I should become Amish. I feel like my life would be easier than all this hurried non activity- activity kwim? We drive our cars everywhere and have to run on treadmills to compensate. It seems crazy!

09-21-2010, 01:33 PM
I've been in Asia for 9 months now and have noticed a few things. Rice and noodles are diet staples here. There's no negative stigma that's been attached to refined carbs. Yes, they eat smaller portions, but most of the time 75% of the meal will be rice or noodles... only 25% will be meat/fish and some vegetables.

There is no demand - and therefore almost zero availability - of "diet" foods like low calorie bread, frozen meals (i don't know anyone that owns a microwave), protein bars, wraps, etc...

I haven't seen any artificial sweeteners. Yes, they sell a few kinds of diet soda, but it's nothing like in the States where virtually every soda has a diet version. In the store I can usually find a Coke Zero... but that's it. Splenda and Nutrasweet don't seem to exist here.

The people here drink a lot of milk... but other milk products are more expensive and harder to find. I definitely miss cottage cheese! I found a single serving package of Fage Yogurt in an expensive grocery store that caters to foreigners.... it cost 5 US dollars. (Yes, I bought it! Two containers, in fact.)

However, there is no shortage of fast food. McDonalds, Pizza Hut, KFC, Starbucks, even Coldstone Creamery (and more) are all here and are very popular... For instance, I've been to Starbucks on a Sunday morning and witnessed several customers order Frappucinos! It blows my mind... and the "light" versions aren't available here. However, hardly anybody orders drinks in the venti size. I also think people go to these places less frequently.

As a calorie counter it kind of drives me crazy that I can't hop online and check out the nutritional info for the dumplings I ate for lunch... but it's been interesting (in good and bad ways) living in a society that's not so focused on weight loss. The upside is that I've completely stopped eating/drinking anything that's artificially sweetened and am eating almost all whole foods now... since I cook a lot. The disadvantages are losing the convenience of having those "healthy" prepackaged foods and spending crazy amounts of money when I find them (like that Fage yogurt).

09-21-2010, 07:32 PM
That's interesting because I buy Fage Yogurt here all the time!

09-22-2010, 02:14 AM
I find this thread absolutely fascinating! I never really researched the day-to-day eating and exercise habits of other countries. It really does put America in a whole new (and somewhat horrifying) light!

I think I will have to keep this thread in mind when I whine about walking to the grocery store or the expense of fresh fruit.

09-22-2010, 12:37 PM
Excellent thread. My husband's family is French and none of them have weight problems. Their culture is also one of shopping for a day or two for what you need and much smaller portions. I am not sure about the others posting here but my experience has been that most Americans tend to do major food shopping trips once or twice a month which is why they rely so heavily on processed foods.

09-23-2010, 12:54 PM
Earlier this month I spent 2 weeks in Europe (Dublin, Paris and Amsterdam) and I truly LOVED the way people eat over there! As the original poster stated, the foods were REAL WHOLE foods! Way less processed, packaged stuff. When I went into a market the majority of the market was fruits and veggies, breads (usually baked there at the market), meats and fish. The aisles in the market designated for packaged foods were few. When you go into an American market the majority of the foods are packaged with a little bit of fresh stuff around the perimeter.

Another thing I noticed was the amounts of sugar and salt in everything; waaaaay less than the U.S.! I admit I'm a bit of a food dork so I'm ALWAYS reading the labels of everything, nutrition seriously interests me! Their "pre packaged" foods like bread had very little or no sweetener, same with the jarred tomato sauces. Ours are full of sweet crap!

It truly inspired me to think differently about my diet and how I eat. I've made a new commitment to myself to put in the effort of cooking and packaging my own food. I'm currently on a soup kick and have found some of the most amazingly delicious, filling and healthy soup recipes! I feel good about what I'm putting in my mouth and how it's feeding my body. I'm proud of myself!

Edit To Add: I also noticed the portion sizes were all smaller. Everything from the large coffee at the corner cafe to the size of lunch or dinner at a restaurant was smaller than what I was used to here in the U.S.

09-23-2010, 01:23 PM
I'm currently on a soup kick and have found some of the most amazingly delicious, filling and healthy soup recipes!

Hey, hun, would you be able/willing to share some of those recipes? I'm a broke college kid who LOVES warm food in the fall and winter months. Mixing up large batches of re-heatable soup would be PERFECT for me.

If you are willing, please P.M. me. :)