American Food Culture

My husband found a very interesting article the other day, it’s about the only kind of news I like to hear:”New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg plans to propose a far-reaching municipal ban on sales of large-size sugary beverages by restaurants, mobile food carts, movie theaters and delis, his administration said on Wednesday”  (Reuters).  After learning that more than 58% of New York City adults were obese, as well as 40% of New York City Public school children, Bloomberg proposed this ban.  It would ban all sugary drinks exceeding 16 ounces, but not diet or dairy based drinks.

This could (and is) also be a political debate, but I’m not going to get into that aspect of it.  The part I find interesting is how crazy it is that America serves drinks that are that large in the first place.  If you were to go somewhere in Europe and order a large drink it would look similar to a small drink in America. You’d eat it with your smaller hamburger and much smaller fries and then walk to your next destination.  Go to a coffee shop in American and ask for a cappuccino and you’ll have to decide between a 12, 16, and 24 ounce beverage, but ask for a cappuccino in Italy and you’ll be handed a 6 ounce drink of strong espresso and creamy foam.  Although smaller, it will taste about a bijillion times better than the American cappuccino, and you’ll have to stand, sip and savor it while talking to the barista instead of gulping it down as you jump back in your car.

Sip and savor?  There’s no need for that when you have 64 ounces of fluid to get through!  Nibble on your lunch?  Not when it’s been given to you in a bag and you’re trying to get it down as you dodge in and out of traffic.  We just don’t enjoy our food.  There’s so much of it to go around and so little quality that we don’t feel the need to savor it.  That was one of the best lessons I learned when traveling last summer, I’d sit at a restaurant for a couple hours  savoring the food and never missing the double size portion I was accustomed to at home.  And although I was in Italy, you’ll never guess what I spent hours eating….meats and veggies with fruit as dessert.  Breads and pastas were served, but not in the excessive quantities and as often as they are served here.

Eating meats, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and fruits sounds pretty boring, but it really opens up your palate to a lot of flavors and textures that it can’t get eating bread and pasta.  We need to re-evaluate our relationship with food and spend more quality time getting to know it.  🙂  And by getting to know it, I mean eating it.  Changing the culture of food in our country starts in our own kitchen.

  • Prepare dinner for your family–notice I didn’t say cook, maybe you’re not a good cook, then grab a rotisserie chicken from the store, some fresh veggies, a bag of salad, and fruit for dessert.
  • Sit down for dinner with your family, talk, enjoy….chew.
  • Eat less, eat more slowly.
  • Think about how the food tastes and then how it makes you feel after you eat it.
  • After dinner, put the dishes aside for a while and take a walk as a family.  This is called digestion–get used to it!

We don’t need a country wide weight loss plan as much as we need a cultural change.  Less is more, quality over quantity, and movement is something we are meant to do–not avoid.

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8 Comments Add yours

  1. Suzanne Bushee says:

    I love this Lauren. And my love of food in general has helped me truly appreciate the quality and satisfaction that comes in the simplest of forms: a summer tomato that tastes as it should just doesn’t get any better.
    What is difficult still, I think, and will come as we change our food culture, is redefining yourself as someone who insists on quality ingredients, quality preparation and quality enjoyment of food from sharing with family and friends to feeling nourished, emotionally and physically. I have always been the one encouraging others to indulge, throw caution to the wind and have fun! I am only lucky that I do not gain weight more steadily. And that fun food for me does happen to include all foods, vegetables and ice cream alike. LUCKY.
    But, as I work to include feeling physically well into my notion of good and fun food, I find less and less support. I am viewed as strange, uptight, controlling, obsessed with weight (which I don’t even measure any longer–I use BMI instead), suffering some crisis of my age (42). I so hope to redfine fun and healthful food for my kids. I love teaching them to read labels and to identify and choose the nutrients they need to thrive, as well as whole heartedly running toward the ice cream truck when we hear it’s tune on our street. I keep making food alternatives for them–paleo ice cream–in hopes that they, too, will taste the chemicals and overdone sweetness of the treats we are constantly bombarded with!
    This is all to say THANK YOU for taking the time to write this blog. The way I feel is guidance enough to keep me on this quest for better health and a different kind of food culture within the walls of our house. But, it really helps to find support out there too!

  2. Lauren, last night I washed and chopped broccoli, radishes, cucumbers, turnips, purple cauliflower (which is beautiful), squash, zucchini, and then some onions for what I was preparing (a broccoli salad). I thought of you and appreciated your inspiration so much. I needed you number so I could text you pictures and say thank you. I love your post today so much because I’m passionate about culture and health. Social science research abounds about the value of sharing a meal together. My favorite statistic is this. There once was a survey of Rhodes scholars to see what they had in common. They looked at Socio-economic status, education of parents, region of the country, private vs public schooling…and they found the most common characteristic was they came from families who ate dinner together! Eating healthy meals, savoring the quality of the food as well as the quality of time is important.

    What I’m struggling with now is fighting the influences outside our home of Anna Cate seeing how other people eat. Also, she obsesses about food and I’m worried about how to handle it. I know it is probably because she hears us talk about it a lot but it is a big part of our life and I want to pass along healthy habits, both phsycially and emotionally but I have to be honest with her. we can’t and won’t eat like many of her friends.

  3. PS…I have to share that BOTH my girls will eat veggies, but Anna Cate has always done so well with eating healthy food. I just notice that she thinks about sweets and indulgences way too much. I think it is because I have limited it so much and worry about her BMI. Just this week, Molly ate raw turnips. AC will eat salmon quiche, red peppers, you name it. So any advice is appreciated on this issue.

    1. Lauren says:

      As odd as it sounds, I would start incorporating it more, possibly through “paleo desserts” or through desserts that are made out of healthy ingredients, like poached pears or grilled peaches with a bit of homemade ice cream. It doesn’t have to be twinkies and ding dongs, just something sweet that allows her to enjoy it without overdoing it. Let her pick out her ingredients at the farmer’s market and find a way to make something delicious out of it.

  4. Lauren says:

    You ladies are wonderful…I love your feedback.
    Suzanne- I understand where your’e coming from with struggling how to fit in with family and friends who might eat anything and everything and think nothing of it. I have two pieces of advice for this: Number one: there are two kinds of gluttony: one in which you eat too much and everything, Ex: your grandmother makes you a cake and you eat the entire thing. The other in which you refuse to eat anything that you do not agree with, no matter who’s feelings may be hurt or insulted. Ex: your grandmother bakes you a cake and you tell her you can’t eat that.
    There is a healthy balance to this, I’ve found that eating the way I normally eat the majority of the time when I’m around friends and family and then those extra indulgences in small bits and moderation. My family and friends have noticed and many will even make meals that they know we will appreciate when we come over, even if it is a change in their normal diet. It’s not going to be a fast culture change, although we got here pretty fast as a country, it will take a lot longer to dig ourselves out of this rut.

    Sarah- I’m not a mommy–yet–but I remember being in 5th grade when someone first commented on me being chunky (although I’m sure I noticed before then) and became aware of my weight and what I ate. My mother had always and continued to always feed us healthy food, but there were still things around that could make a little girl chubby that I probably ate too much of.
    Anyway, I didn’t learn until much later that my relationship with the food I was eating was just as important as the food itself. My friends had kitchens full of junk food and I would raid it when I was at there house because I didn’t get to have much of it at home. I feel like if I had learned to connect how those foods made me FEEL with how much/little of them I ate, I would have learned more quickly to eat them in moderation or to not eat them at all. For example: kid wants a brownie, mom says “no, that’s bad for you” (making the kid want it more) or mom says “do you think you would feel better eating the brownie or these strawberries?”–now, the kid is probably still going to pick the brownie, but you’ve brought it to her attention that the food she eats affects how she feels. Then next time, or the time after, or maybe even the time after that she might start to change her mind. You also have a chance to bring this too her attention when she’s tired or hungry again right away, in a non-judgmental way you could tell her “Yeah, when I eat too much sugar or chocolate, I don’t feel very good either.” or “Sugar doesn’t fill us up very well, so we get hungry soon again after eating it.”
    To continue with the brownie example, you could tell her yes, cut it into a little piece and decorate it with strawberries and whip cream and make it look like something she would get at a restaurant so she can learn to enjoy it. This may not be the fastest answer, but it’s another way of instilling a love for the taste of food, not quantity.

    1. Thank you Lauren. You’ve given me a lot of food for thought. I distinctly remember my dad and grandmother telling me I was overweight and that I should start running and that runners are skinny. I still have issues around the whole body image thing and I’m so afraid of letting it happen with AC. I am 98% completely healed from my own but I feel like I’m starting all over again with her and I don’t want to eff it up! Love you and your blog! 🙂

  5. Abby Thompson says:

    I’ve read that a way to get children to eat better at home is by letting them be a part of preparing a meal. My daughter is way to young to try this, but I can’t wait until she’s old enough! My family is not supportive of how I eat so I jus prepare food ahead of time and bring it with me.

    1. Lauren says:

      My mother agrees! She tried to keep us very involved with food preparation, shopping, etc. She used the experienced to educate us and it worked well!

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