Friday, September 9, 2011

Why we are all a bunch of fat-assed knuckle-dusters with heart disease

Just returned to the mothership after a month back in the land of the free and diabetic. Every time I log into CNN or Yahoo! there is inevitably some story about how the asses of your average American now are able to exert some detectable gravitational pull on surrounding objects, or the rising epidemic of zygote diabetes. There are also usually some articles titled "Health Watch: 5 Foods to Lower Your Risk of Being a Land-Whale" or "10 Simple Diet Changes to Help You Avoid Wearing Pants With Enough Fabric to Rig a 19th Century Clipper Ship".

Fun Fact: The Goodwill donations of only two adult U.S. males were recycled into the sails of this ship. Ironically the ship was used to transport an emergency supply of butter to Big Bertha's Butter Covered Lard Cube factory which supplies the nation's public school lunch program.

And upon returning home I was again (as I always am after spending extensive time where the average body-type is closely modeled on a pipe cleaner) at just how unfathomably huge so many of my fellow Americans are.

Now clearly there isn't a huge degree of mystery behind the source of this discrepancy in water-displacement capacity.

In the US we eat this:

and this:

and this:

This last one is a funnel cake. Which has as much resemblance to a cake as the US House of Representatives has to a functional organization (rim shot!). When we believe that chucking raw batter into a vat of oil and topping it with confectionery sugar constitutes food we are clearly on the wrong path.

Compare this to one of my first meals on returning to Japan:

Fun Fact: In Japan this is food for four people. In the US this is an appetizer for a toddler. (in amount only, no way in hell is a kid in the US eating nearly so much green stuff unless it comes from a tube with Dora the Explorer on it or had enough lime green food coloring pumped into it to make Chernobyl look like a good place to raise children)

The dishes include (moving roughly left to right) grilled lotus root, boiled spinach with sesame seeds, salad, konyaku (which is a potato starch based gelatin) seasoned with shiso (a leaf vegitable), tofu cooked in the hotpot, sashimi, beef and eggplant stir fry, and cucumbers with seaweed and vinegar.

Now - I will digress to tell a story from my college days (readers may be shocked to learn that this 'writer' actually matriculated at and graduated from an accredited college). My friend and I would drag ourselves to the dining hall every night and face the same choice over at the grill where the food was prepared in plain view (If I was an underpaid line cook preparing food every night for a group of self-righteous and over-entitled teenagers who repeatedly asked, in a tone of voice that was all but dripping with skepticism, whether or not the vegan-only pan had been used to make any grilled cheese, I would seriously consider using a good portion of the prepared dishes as a gluten-based Kleenex). One of the choices we faced was whether to have the deep-fried chicken patty or the grilled chicken breast. The chicken patty had 16g of fat, and the grilled chicken breast had 4g. While the chicken patty was clearly tastier than the breast, we decided that it was not 4 times as tasty - hence we tended to opt for the breast (which we did in areas other than chicken! rim shot again!). Thus with the taste vs. heart-attack equation we were able to run a semi-inebriated cost/benefit analysis and determine our diet over the period of four years.

All this goes to say that the Reuben is clearly a great way to induce a mouth-gasm. I would even say it was 3 times as tasty as the Japanese meal I ate. But it was about 804,834 times worse for you. And like the grilled chicken breast, the Japanese meal was in no way bad - it was quite good in fact. Very good indeed. Awesome even. And while it was no Reuben, the results of the cost/benefit analysis were pretty clear.

Which leads to a second point.

To say that the Japanese eat naught but fish and seaweed would be false. There are plenty of gastronomical choices that involve some combination of "fried", "deep", "meat", "sauce", and other such artery-clogging descriptors. But really it is a question of frequency, and even more importantly portions size. Several years ago I made another trip back to the US. Before leaving I decided I was looking forward to a proper US steak house. Upon arrival I ordered the biggest steak on the menu:

It was enormous, but had all the flavor and texture of a pair of leather shoes left out in a monsoon, and then stored in a sand pit for a month. It was cheap. It was huge. It was crap.

A great number of our chain restaurants are quick to advertise, with great fanfare , just how enormous a plate of food you can get and precisely how little it will cost you. We boast of exactly how many varieties of cheese we can fit into a single entrée. Your bacon-wrapped potato wedges only have 4 kinds of cheese? You are clearly a vegan Communist loser. And then we turn around and run away from carbohydrates like they were the equivalent of rectally ingested cancer-laden heroin. We try and stay healthy be eating fat-free cream cheese on a carb-free bagel, with a bag of 'no trans-fats' kettle-cooked bbq chips, all washed down with a nice bottle of Coke Zero. And then we never grow tired of patting ourselves on the back, if only the seven extra inches of girth on that stump that was once our arm didn't prevent such a range of motion. It is a very split-personality approach to nutrition. And it is clearly not working.

One concept big in nutrition in Japan is 'balance' (ironically there is no word for this other than the loan word 'balance' バランス read baransu - strange considering how central it is to the idea of diet and nutrition here) It doesn't mean that you should never eat anything fried or with fat as clearly stated before, only that you should refrain from portions that are usually reserved for large and impressive geological formations. If you are going to eat red meat, do it right and have a nice small piece Kobe beef. Have it with some vegetables, maybe steamed squash, sliced tomatoes, etc. In other words, show a little moderation.

Unfortunately for many in the US, 'moderation' is listed in the thesaurus as a synonym for 'loser socialist apologist'. The very word moderation makes Sarah Palin want to put a nice little piece of lead deep into the brain stem of some lower life form and use its jaw as a beer cozy on her Freedom Bus or whatever the fuck she toured the country in last summer.

Look, we are great in America at a lot of things - we have the greatest entrepreneurs, some of the top universities in the world, and we are pretty much unbeatable in the realm of pizza toppings. But let's not pretend we don't have a thing or two to learn from our more svelte neighbors regarding nutrition. If you really want that chilli-dunked double cheese burger with the disco fries and a cherry coke, then enjoy, but don't make it your new Saturday night thing.


  1. All I could think of while reading this was good old Jersey Fat Cats.... :)

    Plus, I'm curious as to who you did this cost-benefit analysis was. Was it Tall I? My guess is it was. It just sounds like you two!