The view from England
I`ve been following the discussion on Clarissa`s blog for the past few days about why twenty five percent of all Americans and over 30 % in some states are obese according to international statistics. This shouldn`t be surprising for a country that gave the world Spam (precooked meat product), Reddi Whip (vegetable oil masquerading as whipped cream) and Velveeta cheese slices (Pasteurized processed cheese product with 13 ingredients). According to some newspapers such as the Guardian newspaper in England which posted the photo at the top in an article on obesity if they stopped stuffing their faces with freedom fries and read books like “French women don’t get Fat” by Mireille Guiliano, a French citizen who moved to the States in the wealthy Boston suburb of Weston as a student for a year and put on 15 lbs before she returned home and regained her gamine form, things would change. Unfortunately Yankee ingenuity is still at work and on November 14th, 2011 McDonald reintroduced the McRib to their chain of fast food restaurants across America with the ad displayed below. If you read the list of ingredients on their website, it sounds pretty innocuous - McRib Pork Patty, McRib Bun, McRib Sauce, Pickle Slices, Slivered Onions but the item contains 70 ingredients including 980 mg of Sodium (more than you need in a day!), 29 gm of fat and other industrial chemicals such as azodicarbonamide, ammonium sulfate and polysorbate 80 according to an article in Time Magazine which also stated:
Azodicarbonamide, a flour-bleaching agent that is most commonly used in the manufacture of foamed plastics like in gym mats and the soles of shoes, is found in the McRib bun. The compound is banned in Europe and Australia as a food additive. (England's Health and Safety Executive classified it as a "respiratory sensitizer" that potentially contributes to asthma through occupational exposure.)
And the meat in the McRib according to another post is:
Pig innards and plenty of salt. Typically, "restructured meat product" includes pig bits like tripe, heart, and scalded stomach, says Whet Moser at Chicago Magazine, citing a 1995 article by Robert Mandigo, a professor at the University of Nebraska. These parts are cooked and blended with salt and water to extract salt-soluble proteins, which act as”glue" that helps bind the reshaped meat together.<
Mireille Guiliano had a similar experience to Clarissa and wrote in the introduction to her book, "French Women Don`t Get Fat", the following:
My father brought my brother with him to Le Havre to collect me. I was traveling on the SS Rotterdam. … Since he had not seen me for a whole year, I expected my father, who always wore his heart on his face, would embarrass me, bounding up the gangway for the first hug and kiss. But when I spied the diminutive French man in his familiar beret – yes, a beret – he looked stunned. As I approached, now a little hesitantly, he just stared at me, and as we came near, after a few seconds that seemed endless, there in front of my brother and my American shipmate, all he could manage to say to his cherished little girl come home was, ``Tu ressembles a` un sac de potates.``
So the puzzle is how different the food in Canada with the green area representing the low end of the obesity spectrum is from the food in the States with the high end of the spectrum in red as represented in the map above. Certainly the McRib is quite different from the food at the Saint Lawrence Market about which I posted lately on my blog. Last night, Michael Moore said on a panel discussion about the Occupy movement at a school in New York that he ate his first tomato last year and he is in his forties.
Quebec certainly has the food thing figured out and try finding an overweight person at Place Alexis-Nihon or Carrefour Angrignon in Montréal. This is in spite of the Québécois predilection for Poutine and Queues de Castor which aren’t the most thinning items but the foods are certainly less loaded up with industrial strength additives and the food laws are definitely more stringent.
|Chip butty licenced from flickr|
This is a truncated version of a long thread on Clarisse’s post which tended to have comments that diverged from the initial discussion points. It's interesting that England, the source of the photo at the top of the post, doesn't always have the best food and anyone who has had a chip butty or bangers with mash knows what I'm taking about. The British Rail sandwich has been a butt of jokes for years and an article in the Daily Telegraph spoke about it:
The inner secrets of one of the nation's most reviled culinary creations - the infamous British Rail sandwich - were exposed yesterday.
A 30-year-old document unearthed from a collection of discarded BR papers shows how staff were expected to be meticulous about making the finished product suitably unappetising.
First, a trick: stack the filling on the middle of the lower slice of bread, so that when cut in two it would appear fulsome and vaguely attractive.
Second, a tip. When dealing with luncheon meat or sardines, the filling should amount to two-thirds of an ounce. In the case of cheese the quantity was to be increased to three quarters of an ounce, while gherkins were limited - probably quite sensibly - to a quarter of an ounce.
|British Rail Sandwich licenced from flickr|
ADDENDUM: November 17, 2011
In spite of Obama Administration’s efforts in general and Michelle Obama efforts in particular to provide more health school lunches to poor children by updating and raising nutritional guidelines for federally funded programs, today Congress passed a bill bowing to the fast food lobby which acknowledged that pizza would be considered a vegetable for nutritional guidelines with respect to school lunch food as well as no reduction in salt levels. We can look forward to another generation of unhealthy Americans with widespread diabetes and heart disease. The particulars as outlined in an article in the Daily Mail were:
Block the Agriculture Department from limiting starchy vegetables, including corn and peas, to two servings a week. The rule was intended to cut down on French fries, which some schools serve daily.
Allow USDA to count two tablespoons of tomato paste as a vegetable, as it does now. The department had attempted to require that only a half-cup of tomato paste could be considered a vegetable — too much to put on a pizza. Federally subsidized lunches must have a certain number of vegetables to be served.
Require further study on long-term sodium reduction requirements set forth by the USDA guidelines.
Require USDA to define 'whole grains' before they regulate them. The rules would require schools to use more whole grains. Food companies who have fought the USDA standards say they were too strict and neglected the nutrients that potatoes, other starchy vegetables and tomato paste do offer.
'This agreement ensures that nutrient-rich vegetables such as potatoes, corn and peas will remain part of a balanced, healthy diet in federally funded school meals and recognizes the significant amounts of potassium, fiber and vitamins A and C provided by tomato paste, ensuring that students may continue to enjoy healthy meals such as pizza and pasta,' said Kraig Naasz, president of the American Frozen Food Institute.
The following video from last night shows Jamie Oliver's reaction to the events which I just described.