Food in the USA: counting the calories

In hypothetical word association, obesity is one of the first things that springs to mind when the USA is mentioned. It’s perhaps surprising then, that looking around the streets of LA I found that people are not much fatter here than they are in the UK. Of course in my generally healthy home towns of Tunbridge Wells and Brighton there is a much lower average weight, yet it wasn’t too long ago that I found myself in the West Country. If there were a fatness competition out of all the places I’ve been, I think the final would be between Somerset and LA. The prize is a pint of Bovril. And the glory.

I had my first true, all-American McDonalds yesterday, whilst in the rather gangster district of Inglewood. It was fucking great. Although it was slightly more expensive and used a shitty ticketing system that took ages, the actual food itself was deliciously unhealthy. McDonalds has never been about health, so I wasn’t concerned about the fat content or the calories.

It’s always been about the taste, and the fries are the same lovely strips of grease as the British ones, but every element of my burger (fillet) was better and bigger than its English counterpart. The best bit of all was the milkshake, a creamy dream that was little more than melted ice cream. They also topped it with squirty cream and a glace cherry. I suppose that’s what you get when you’re in the gateau, right? In one of the unsavoury parts of town?

The propagated myth that American portion sizes are huge also turns out to be true, and I’ve rarely been able to finish a meal since I’ve been here. Also, I noticed that a triple whopper meal is 2600 Kcals here. Heart attack material. I think they have some kind of law meaning that most food outlets have to display calorie counts of their products. Not fat content or sugars or anything, just the amount of energy they have in them.

Today I visited my first US supermarket. It was a Target, and about the size of a big Asda. It had all the TVs and clothes and shit that you’d expect, but after nearly a week in the States I was a-hunkering for something wholesome but light so I walked a mile or so down the road to find some French bread, carrots and humous. The Target was located just off from Hollwood Blvd, and was pretty massive, so I was certain I’d have no problem finding my bits.

The fruit and vegetable section left a lot to be desired. The only unwrapped things were apples, at 79c each. The entire section was just half of a short aisle, and had mushrooms, broccoli, cauliflower, potatoes, strawberries, apples, bananas and tomatoes. All were covered in plastic and uniform in weight, colour and size.  There were some other vegetables too, though in multi-selection style packs, and not sold separately. I was so dumbfounded that I tried to take a picture, but an employee stopped me and said I wasn’t allowed. I finally found some carrots, which were pre-cut and packaged of course, but get this – they came with a caramel dip! A low-cal caramel dip, of course, but what the actual fuck? What a ridiculous combination. They weren’t for glazing, they were for dipping.

Moving on to the cheese section, I was mock-mortified to discover that over 95% of the cheeses available were either grated or processed. You could even buy a block of processed cheese, which made me feel a bit sick. I don’t like the thought of cutting into that, for some reason. One of them was made by Disney, with a Mickey Mouse on it. I kept thinking I’d ask for some more ‘mature’ cheese, but I didn’t, because it isn’t funny.

Finally, this is what happened after I couldn’t find the humous.

– Could you please tell me where the humous is?

“The what?”

– The humous.

“I’m sorry sir, where the what is?

– The humous, like the Asian chickpea thing.

“I’m sorry but I don’t know what you’re asking for”

– Humous. It’s a kind of dip

“Oh! You mean hummers.”

– Yes. That’s right. I mean hummers. My mistake.

“It’s right over there.”

– Thank you.

It wasn’t right over there.