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I think America has an eating disorder.

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Old 09-18-2010, 06:27 AM   #1
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Default I think America has an eating disorder.

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!
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Old 09-18-2010, 06:56 AM   #2
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Thank you for sharing this! Fascinating. I hope you'll be able to tell us more.
(Congratulations on your success, too!)
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Old 09-18-2010, 08:06 AM   #3
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I agree, that's interesting. If you don't mind me asking, what led you to Japan for 9 months?
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Old 09-18-2010, 08:27 AM   #4
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I'll be here for 3 more years . My husband is in the Navy.
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Old 09-18-2010, 09:51 AM   #5
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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.
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Old 09-18-2010, 09:56 AM   #6
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It's true, but it sure is interesting! It's sure made me think twice about what I put in my mouth.
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Old 09-18-2010, 10:15 AM   #7
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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...
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Old 09-18-2010, 10:17 AM   #8
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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?)
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Old 09-18-2010, 10:22 AM   #9
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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.
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Old 09-18-2010, 10:23 AM   #10
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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!
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Old 09-18-2010, 11:34 AM   #11
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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.
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Old 09-18-2010, 11:47 AM   #12
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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.
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Old 09-18-2010, 12:53 PM   #13
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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.
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Old 09-18-2010, 01:24 PM   #14
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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.
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Old 09-18-2010, 07:50 PM   #15
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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.
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