Fat Americans

by Chris Bertram on June 17, 2008

… and, increasingly, fat British too.

For Europeans, one of the really disconcerting things about visiting the United States is the size of the meals. Ok, there’s the phenomenon that the restaurant staff will let you take home what you don’t or can’t eat (and that’s an idea that many Europeans feel uncomfortable with), but there’s still the fact of the sheer volume of stuff that gets put on your plate. It seems it wasn’t always this way. Via someone in my del.icio.us network, I came across “this article on how portion sizes have changed”:http://www.divinecaroline.com/article/22178/49492-portion-size–now in the US over the past twenty years. And not only are American meals bulkier, they’ve also increased two or three times in calorific value. That can’t be good.



Brett Bellmore 06.17.08 at 2:16 pm

I don’t know, me and the wife are quite happy to go out to eat, and get three meals for each of us, and a treat for the dog. Figure it’s cost effective, too, the way it spreads the labor and travel expenses over so many meals.


harry b 06.17.08 at 2:30 pm

Brett — and, probably, environmentally sound (though not, I’d guess, very green in any other sense).


Brett Bellmore 06.17.08 at 2:33 pm

By the way, why would Europeans be uncomfortable with doggy bags? They prefer to let leftovers rot?


Jamie 06.17.08 at 2:34 pm

If you read La Physiologie du Goût you see descriptions of meals that we’d think of as feeding a family of eight. There’s one in which someone eats six dozen oysters… as an appetizer. (Actually, I think that’s Brillat-Savarin reporting what someone else told him, not describing a meal at which he was present.)


matt 06.17.08 at 2:44 pm

I’ve found this comparison pretty interesting:


I can’t say how accurate it is. (Many seem to have an awful lot of bottled beverages, for example. Does that German family w/ two adults and two kids really drink four bottles of wine and 20 bottles of beer a week? Does that Mexican family really drink so much soda? Is a beagle really part of a typical British diet?) It also seems to indicate a disturbing amount of pre-packaged food. Still, fairly interesting.


harry b 06.17.08 at 2:47 pm

Brett — I’m guessing it is because good food tastes good the first time round, but not so good thereafter. TO be honest, most Europeans I know have been amazed – but in a postiive way — when first encourntering the doggy bag.


Barry 06.17.08 at 2:51 pm

” Is a beagle really part of a typical British diet?”

Only when they can’t get a cute Pomeranian (note that the Queen never goes out without a pack of them, in case she’s feeling peckish). Their fur makes good wigs or boots.


Slocum 06.17.08 at 2:52 pm

This strikes me as a curious comment in light of the prix fixe, multi-course European meal.


John Meredith 06.17.08 at 2:57 pm

Brett, I don’t agree with Harry b, I think it is more likely that Europeans (to generalise extravagantly) are more hung up than Americans about appearing to be concerned about value for money (although this is changing). It is snobbery, in other words. This is certainly true of a lot of English people.


Barry 06.17.08 at 3:01 pm

“This strikes me as a curious comment in light of the prix fixe, multi-course European meal.”

Posted by Slocum

But those *could* include a tasty beagle or pomeranian :)


notsneaky 06.17.08 at 3:07 pm

“I’m guessing it is because good food tastes good the first time round, but not so good thereafter”

Usually, but not always true. In fact I prefer my Indian food a day or so old, once the sauces have had time to soak in to the rice and meat while sitting in the fridge for awhile. When I go out to eat for Indian I eat a third of the portion and save the rest on purpose, whether I’m full or not.

And of course, while in college, many folks develop an acute appreciation for day old, cold pizza. Ok, kidding on that one.


seth edenbaum 06.17.08 at 3:08 pm

But this is just a “natural” process isn’t it? I think Robert Reich would agree with Brett.


belle le triste 06.17.08 at 3:21 pm

i think a lot of this is actually just habit — if you’re thinking “oof i couldn’t eat another thing” and someone says “so would you like to take the rest home?” i think it takes a particular kind of self-trained forethought to act on how nice (and/or cost-saving) it will be tomorrow

once you’re in the habit, you don’t think “NO WAY I’M STUFFED!”, you just stow the doggybag and go

(i can’t shop for food when i’ve just eaten — i just find myself thinking “i’m not hungry, i don’t want ANYTHING”: obviously this isn’t rational, providence-wise, but providence is as much as anything about rituals and patterns)


belle le triste 06.17.08 at 3:28 pm

in one gordon ramsay’s kitchen nightmares, ramsay mercilessly rips into the restaurant-owner for the portion-sizing: partly this is about costs (the business is going under), and giving away too much for free, but partly i think it is ramsay’s own attitude to cooking, which is not so far from the one harry b elaborates — that the art and heart of it is excellence now

(ramsay’s line on almost everything is aggressive conventionality of course — don’t be fancy or weird if you can’t hack it — and he’s utterly unphased by the issue of snobbery about money, but it was funny how appalled he was the portion-size)


belle le triste 06.17.08 at 3:29 pm

(above ramsay tantrum being in one of the US eps, i shd add)


eric 06.17.08 at 3:38 pm

Now here’s a novel approach to combating obesity: The Texas Obesity Research Center in Second Life. I wonder if I could get a grant to research the effects on obesity of encouraging people to put away the Doritos, shut off the computer, and play outside.


Lee A. Arnold 06.17.08 at 3:47 pm

Then there’s the eternal Mr Creosote:


“I’ll have the lot!”


Righteous Bubba 06.17.08 at 4:03 pm

It’s an important part of the myth of America that everyone can have Wealth. A big pile of glop on your plate lets you be the gluttonous feasting lord for an evening.

Those who are the actual lords go to restaurants where the portion sizes don’t need to represent their dreams.


Rich B. 06.17.08 at 4:07 pm

Okay, Americans. What percentage of your “doggy bags” actually get eaten — whether by you or the kids or the dog. And what percentage gets thrown out a week later?

In our house, it’s got to be less than a 1/3 eaten.


seth edenbaum 06.17.08 at 4:13 pm

“Those who are the actual lords go to restaurants where the portion sizes don’t need to represent their dreams.”

Not true. Or rather only true for those Lords who style themselves Europhiles and or Foodies.


lemuel pitkin 06.17.08 at 4:14 pm

that German family w/ two adults and two kids really drink four bottles of wine and 20 bottles of beer a week?

Why not? I do, and I’m just one guy.


Brett Bellmore 06.17.08 at 4:16 pm

100% in this family. We DO have a doggy, after all. ;) Anyway, I find that while prime rib, for example, isn’t nearly as good the next day, it still makes a great sandwich on an onion roll with a bit of horseradish sauce.


mijnheer 06.17.08 at 4:18 pm

It’s the increase in meat consumption, both in “developed” and “developing” countries that is placing human health and the health of the planet at serious risk — everything from greenhouse gases to water pollution to rainforest destruction to famine to political repression.


Barry 06.17.08 at 4:24 pm

“Okay, Americans. What percentage of your “doggy bags” actually get eaten—whether by you or the kids or the dog. And what percentage gets thrown out a week later?

In our house, it’s got to be less than a 1/3 eaten.”

Posted by Rich B

Seconding Brett here (I’ll then take a long shower), it depends on what. Some foods make a great lunch the next day; others are pretty bad when reheated.

But 1/3 eaten might be a good figure for me, also.


Tom 06.17.08 at 4:25 pm

The doggybag is to avoid pangs on the cab ride home.


Righteous Bubba 06.17.08 at 4:26 pm

Or rather only true for those Lords who style themselves Europhiles and or Foodies.

You don’t have to style yourself anything if you just go to the places where what you spend represents your wealth more obviously than what you are able to consume.


Watson Aname 06.17.08 at 4:31 pm

For what it’s worth slocum, I’ve had three course prix fixes meals in europe that were significantly less food that some single plate meals in texas.


Brett Bellmore 06.17.08 at 4:38 pm

Anything with Alfredo sauce is terrible the next day, (Not that the dog minds, he LOVES Alfredo.) but neither I nor my wife are fond of that fatty stuff. The dog has gotten it when we ate out with family.

Chinese makes great omelette filling the next morning.

And cold pizza is indeed the breakfast of the gods.

We usually order steak or prime rib when eating out, for the change, since our diet at home is mostly chicken or pork adobo. (My wife’s adobo is to die for!)

Hm, this subject reminds me, I’ve got a ham bone in the freezer, and it’s got a date with some lentils. I’d better thaw it.


abb1 06.17.08 at 4:41 pm

American restaurants are much, much better. Twice the food for half the price, better variety, faster, better service, more space.

Caveats: terrible coffee, lousy bread, frankenstein food all made from corn one way or another, and – yes – you get fat quickly.


Andrew Edwards 06.17.08 at 4:47 pm

RE: the “what people eat around the world” link.

Is it just me or does the diet generally look healthier the poorer the people? (With the refugee as an exception)


Jake 06.17.08 at 4:49 pm

For people like Brett & Family, increased portions are a fine thing.

But the data’s pretty clear: Most people eat more when served more. We’re not, on average, terribly rational actors when it comes to food choices.

I think a big force in the increased portion size is the similar decrease in food costs. The original coke was made with sugar. The 20oz coke is made with cheap cheap high fructose corn syrup.

Now that food prices are on the rise, I wonder if we’ll see a reversal of the portion size trend?


Watson Aname 06.17.08 at 4:53 pm

Is it just me or does the diet generally look healthier the poorer the people?

This really shouldn’t be a surprise, most places that aren’t suffering an actual lack of food have better diets than the US & Britain.

Twice the food for half the price, better variety, faster, better service, more space.

This much is mostly true. Shame about the food though (only somewhat unfair).


Brett Bellmore 06.17.08 at 4:58 pm

“The original coke was made with sugar. The 20oz coke is made with cheap cheap high fructose corn syrup.”

High fructose corn syrup is only cheaper than sucrose because of high sugar tariffs. IOW, the corn syrup didn’t lower costs, it became competitive when the tariff raised them.


Jamie 06.17.08 at 5:16 pm

abb1, how true about the bread. In general. That’s strange — good bread has become readily available retail, but restaurant bread quality hasn’t gone up.


Watson Aname 06.17.08 at 5:27 pm

jamie, it isn’t even consistently available retail. Seems to really depends on where you are.


seth edenbaum 06.17.08 at 5:37 pm

Bubba, expensive steak houses don’t serve small portions. In Texas, Nebraska or New York.
In this country cultural elitists and those who want to be seen as part of that elite tend to eat less. The European style of diet is not normative in this country. It’s a “lifestyle choice” or an ideological choice. People don’t change their diet they “go on a” diet. That’s why I made the reference to Robert Reich: It’s all about freedom. Everyone claims to be reasonable, rational and in control.

And find a picture of Brett (use google). He’s fat.


mollymooly 06.17.08 at 5:40 pm

–‘i can’t shop for food when i’ve just eaten—i just find myself thinking “i’m not hungry, i don’t want ANYTHING”’
This is the first time I’ve heard this. The cliché I know is never to shop for food when your hungry, because everything seems so yummy you end up with a trolley full of miscellaneous crap.


Tom Hurka 06.17.08 at 5:45 pm

You eat more when you eat faster, don’t you? The next useful study would be of eating speeds now and 20 years ago, and in the US vs. Europe. I’ll bet there’s a correlation between portion size and rate of gobbling the stuff down.


Slocum 06.17.08 at 5:49 pm

jamie, it isn’t even consistently available retail. Seems to really depends on where you are.

But not near to the extent that it used to. At worst, you can find a Panera Bread just about anywhere. The first one of those I ever wandered into by accident was in a oasis on the Ohio Turnpike. No, not the world’s greatest bakery…but for a rest stop on the Ohio Turnpike? Pretty amazing what an upgrade it is over what you’d have found when I was kid.


Righteous Bubba 06.17.08 at 5:56 pm

Bubba, expensive steak houses don’t serve small portions. In Texas, Nebraska or New York.

Are we talking exclusively about expensive steak houses?

I do agree that individuals who like Diet A may continue to eat Diet A when they’re wealthy, but they certainly have a better shot at portion control at the French Laundry than they do at Denny’s.


Scott 06.17.08 at 6:04 pm

They just might. I’ve spent a little time in Mexico City, where tap water is bad. They substituted Coke or apple soda at least as often as bottled water.


Matthew Kuzma 06.17.08 at 6:09 pm

Far more troubling is the fact that a lot of 20-somethings eat out for every meal. I have no problem, personally, dealing with large portions at restaurants because I can eat a lot of food quite happily but I eat out at most once a week. The rest of the time I’m cooking.

The phenomenon is also far from universal. I suspect there’s a certain price range of restuarant where you’re obviously not going there for quality, so they compete on quantity – being basically any chain restaurant. But a lot of the unique local restaurants I go to serve what I think is a reasonable amount of food. Maybe Europeans would still be shocked.


CK Dexter 06.17.08 at 6:15 pm

I’m not European, but I always feel a little uncomfortable about taking home leftovers. I think the main reason is that someone inevitably uses the nauseating phrase “doggy bag.” Very unappetizing.

The other reason is you feel it feels a little schoolchildish to walk around with a box containing your nourishment.

But mainly the doggy bag thing. Ick.


Brett Bellmore 06.17.08 at 6:16 pm

“And find a picture of Brett (use google). He’s fat.”

Was fat. I dieted down from 250 lbs (My peak when I was clinically depressed.) to 170, and am currently bouncing between 190 and 195. Which is heavier than a like, but a lot lighter than I used to be.


seth edenbaum 06.17.08 at 6:24 pm

I was responding to this:
“You don’t have to style yourself anything if you just go to the places where what you spend represents your wealth”

I was in Vegas on business a few months ago. My friends and I took our Chinese guests, factory owners from Jiangxi out to dinner at Delmonico, a steakhouse owned at lest in name by celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse. The steak was fair, but not aged. And our guests were shocked by the size of the portions. We were a bit surprised too.
I won’t tell you what the check came to


Walt 06.17.08 at 6:39 pm

Congratulations, Brett! I know that kind of lifestyle change is hard to do.


blah 06.17.08 at 6:41 pm

Portion size is just one piece of the puzzle of why Americans have grown so fat. If you eat out a lot, taking home leftovers is great if you can stop eating after consuming a sufficient amount of food. Many people have not learned to do this – like many animals, it is probably hardwired into us to keep eating everything is gone. If you do not eat out often, eating a huge meal is not a problem. But if you do it on a regular basis, you get into trouble.

The human animal has not learned to adjust from a world of food scarcity to a world of food abundance – and American is at the leading edge of the problem. (Actually, the Pacific Islands are probably at the leading edge – in some places, up to 80% of the population is obese).


a very public sociologist 06.17.08 at 6:53 pm

I remember my honeymoon somewhere in N America and the portions were just out of this world. Starter was three complimentary pumpernickels each, and then came a plate with more chips you could shake a stick at AND a burger so huge I had to split it in two to eat it. And then never ending coke top ups too. It was amazing I could fit into one seat on the plane home …


Medium Dave 06.17.08 at 7:19 pm

When I think about the “supersizing” of US food portions, I wonder how much social conditioning from earlier, less affluent eras (such as the Great Depression) is still with us. For people of my grandparent’s generation, it was foolish not to “clean your plate” because one never knew what the next meal would be. But we still feel compelled to clean our plates today even though the portions on the plates have become absurdly huge.


SG 06.17.08 at 7:24 pm

It doesn’t matter if you take a third home in a doggy bag or not, if there’s too much food on your plate you’re going to get fat.

Another excellent and useful comparison is ’80s music videos, especially from before ’84. The models are fatter than modern models (if they’re girls) or thinner and smaller and generally less muscly (if they’re boys, and not in a C&C music factory video), but everyone in crowd scenes or street scenes is thin. And I mean everyone. It’s really shocking to compare it with modern music. The world has changed, in a fat and slobbery way, and none of us are better for it.


harry b 06.17.08 at 7:28 pm

To follow up on sg — try looking at family photographs as well.


Slocum 06.17.08 at 7:28 pm

Many people have not learned to do this – like many animals, it is probably hardwired into us to keep eating everything is gone.

No, it’s not — do you eat until your fridge is empty, your cupboards are bare, and you’re out of money so you can’t replenish them? You know that appetite mechanism that came as a standard feature of your ‘reptile brain’? It works — which is why you stop eating when you’re not hungry any more rather than when your house is out of food.

Where was that study showing people reduced other calorie intake when they eat out? Here it is:


So why is everybody getting fatter? Sedentary lifestyle, mostly. The big change has been for kids — who now spend far more time with game consoles and far less time running around outside.


seth edenbaum 06.17.08 at 7:32 pm

There’s a difference between taking pleasure in eating as taking pleasure in categories of sense, taste and texture: in the aesthetics of eating, and taking pleasure of putting food in your mouth: Jouissance. There’s no need for esthetic complexity in the latter, but even that can get degraded over time. McDonalds did not invent the hamburger. DeLong’s lousy tomato, which he defends as the result of choice (but will never eat himself) is the utilitarian’s defense of lousy food for others.

An interest in the details in categories of taste is considered an indulgence in the US, more of an indulgence than gluttony. Gluttony is normative as an expression of individualism. As a form of greed, it’s an individual not a social pleasure. And individualism is normative in the populace, which is why it’s defense is normative in academia as well.


CJColucci 06.17.08 at 7:32 pm

“The original coke was made with sugar. The 20oz coke is made with cheap cheap high fructose corn syrup.”

High fructose corn syrup is only cheaper than sucrose because of high sugar tariffs. IOW, the corn syrup didn’t lower costs, it became competitive when the tariff raised them.

Remember the Archer-Daniels-Midland commercials some years back on the various Sabbath Gabfests explaining how cheap sugar was in the U.S., at least when measured by percentage of income Americans spent on it? This was a defense of sugar tariffs by a company that doesn’t make sugar. But irt makes megatons of high-fructose corn syrup.


R 06.17.08 at 7:34 pm

In response to 19’s “how many doggie bags actually get eaten?”

Virtually all of mine — I’m pretty careful to eat only half of what’s on my plate to make sure I have half to take home for lunch the next day.


Righteous Bubba 06.17.08 at 7:38 pm

Who in their right mind wants a Horn of Adequacy?


blah 06.17.08 at 8:13 pm

Well, it was obviously hyperbole to say that we eat “everything,” but the basic point is that people are not very good at relying on satiety cues to determine whether they have eaten enough.

We are powerless to ignore the clarion call of the candy jar, the beckoning of the buffet, the summons of the snack cupboard.

That’s the conclusion of Brian Wansink, author of “Mindless Eating” and head of Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab.

Wansink has spent a career watching how people behave around food — at home and work, in sit-down restaurants and buffets, and in the many other places where Americans routinely chow down.

“We believe we have all the free will in the world. We believe we overeat if the food is good or if we’re really hungry. In reality, those are two of the last things that determine how much we eat,” Wansink says. What really influences our eating, he says, are visibility and convenience.



notsneaky 06.17.08 at 8:57 pm

“What percentage of your “doggy bags” actually get eaten—whether by you or the kids or the dog. And what percentage gets thrown out a week later?”

3/4. But there’s an economist in the household.


SG 06.17.08 at 9:18 pm

the size of meals is also less relevant these days, so eating to satiety is no longer a measure of eating the right amount. Calorie-density sweety darlings! One of those fabled meals of yore would have filled you up twice as much for its 1/3 as many calories, so you’d have eaten less anyway.

You can still see a lot of this difference in Japan, by the way. 3 course meals there are small and cheap. And the Japanese are thin.


notsneaky 06.17.08 at 9:34 pm

“What really influences our eating, he says, are visibility and convenience.”

Oh come on. I’m sitting in my office right with nary a bite to eat in sight (invisibility) but I’m super hungry. You better believe that as soon as I can get home (inconvenience) I’m gonna cook up a huge meal and woof it down. And it’s gonnnnnaaaa be gooooood! That Wansink guy is flipping things around. Because we’re hungry we arrange for food to be convenient. And visible.


notsneaky 06.17.08 at 9:38 pm

I’m with slocum on this one – it’s mostly about the sedentary lifestyle. Back in college I could eat a large pizza and two foot long subs. Three times a day. Wash it down with ridiculous amounts of beer. I weighted less than 130lbs. Of course I walked or biked everywhere and didn’t lounge around at home much.
Then I got enough money to buy a car, got cable, got lazy. Drove everywhere, sat on the couch more. That’s on the minus side. On the plus side, I just can’t eat as much as used to.


novakant 06.17.08 at 9:41 pm

The idea of taking home a “doggy bag” is totally grossing me out right now – is this a family thing, for the kids? You don’t do this on a date, right, or when you go for drinks afterwards? Call me a snob, but it’s so lacking in style. Doesn’t it smell?


Righteous Bubba 06.17.08 at 9:46 pm

Doesn’t it smell?

If you’re driving your fat ass around town and you’ve just had the greatest meal ever then making your car smell like that is quite nice.


Adam 06.17.08 at 9:47 pm

If you don’t know what to do with your doggy bags, consider asking homeless people along the street if they would like them. I’m in Chicago, and there are many homeless people – most are hungry and will happily take your doggy bag. If my doggy bags actually made it home, I would probably eat them, but I am fat and other people are starving, so this seems like a better solution.


blah 06.17.08 at 9:47 pm

I am sure that physical activity is also a piece of the puzzle, but Americans undeniably are eating more calories than ever before:



W. Kiernan 06.17.08 at 10:19 pm

Twenty years ago Today’s Burger
333 calories 590 calories

According to a 2007 paper published in the Journal of Public Health Policy, portion sizes offered by fast food chains are two to five times larger than when first introduced. When McDonald’s first started in 1955, its only hamburger weighed around 1.6 ounces; now, the largest hamburger patty weighs 8 ounces, an increase of 500 percent.

Yeah, but you can still get the 1.6 ounce hamburger for, like, 59 cents at McDonalds; they haven’t taken it off the menu. If you feel like being extravagant you can get the double cheeseburger (3 oz. of beef) for $1.00 plus tax. You can also select a small order of French fries; you aren’t forced to buy the Extra-Super-Mega size. As far as that jouissance talk goes, if you go in when they’re busy and everything is fresh-cooked and hot, the McD double-cheeseburger (only onions, plz) is pretty tasty and their fries are absolutely tee-riff.

But now you try going into a convenience store or gas station anywhere here in Florida and getting one single 12 oz. beer! There’s not one in the cooler, ever. Some of these places don’t even have 16 oz. beers, the smallest size they’ve got is 24 oz.


Aidan Kehoe 06.17.08 at 10:22 pm

I agree with abb1’s general assessment, and am thankful I don’t live in the US, where I would be even fatter than I am now.


Michael 06.17.08 at 10:43 pm

This reminds me of my last trip to the US. I had a stop in Detroit. Coffee came in two sizes: Grande and Extra Grande. A muffin I ate was the size of a small pie. In my final destination Chicago I saw people eating ( I could say “wolfing down” or munching or devouring ) large pieces of meat. And they wonder about the increased prevalence of obesity in the US. It’s high calory content and a sedentary lifestyle. I think the New Yorkers may be better off because they tend to walk more and use public transit. Then again, my American friends tell me NYC is very different from the rest of the US anyway.


Laura 06.17.08 at 10:46 pm

I don’t think doggy bagging is even legal in Australia. The principle being that it’s not a good idea to eat food that cooled down slowly then sat about at room temperature for an indefinite period before being put in the fridge. Although none of you have said you don’t eat them because of food poisoning, so maybe it’s just paranoia.


fatty arbuckle 06.17.08 at 10:54 pm

Here is a look at obesity rates in the U.S., state by state:


The fattest states tend to be in the Appalachian, Southern, and Rust Belt regions. The leaner states tend to be in the Northeast and the Mountain-West.


Nick 06.17.08 at 11:09 pm

I’ll bet there’s a correlation between portion size and rate of gobbling the stuff down.

There’s also a correlation between size/frequency of meal and rate of weight-gain (basically eat the same calorific value food in bigger/less frequent portions and you gain weight quicker than consuming in smaller/more frequent portions).
Monty Python’s ‘real mother of a blow-out’ is really not a good idea . . .


SG 06.17.08 at 11:31 pm

laura, isn’t it only illegal in Melbourne?

I cannot believe that it’s all sedentariness only. There are sinister tricks being used to make us eat more (because then we pay more). For example the smallest coffee at Starbucks is not actually on the menu – you have to know the word and point at the cup to get it. In Australia a main meal at a restaurant is routinely twice the size you need, but when one goes in one wants to taste more than one thing, so one ends up eating too much. It’s not rocket science for businesses to fix things this way, but it sure is wasteful. Food in the bin, and we’re getting fat.

Some public health journals covered some of these tricks a year or 2 ago and they really are shocking – hiding the small sizes, always offering a size up, and those bigger sizes being not commensurately more expensive all add up to make you eat too much – especially if they’re cramming more calories into the same size.


Laura 06.18.08 at 12:02 am

Only illegal in Melbourne – sounds like it SG.


Quo Vadis 06.18.08 at 12:46 am

The marginal cost to the restaurant of an additional 30% percent in portion size is very small compared to the total cost of bringing the customers in and serving them.

From the restaurant’s perspective it’s a matter of not wanting to disappoint your customers. A customer who gets more than they wanted to eat won’t mind, but a customer who gets less than they wanted will not be back. When so many of your customers eat so much, you have to adapt.


Barry 06.18.08 at 2:17 am

“Now that food prices are on the rise, I wonder if we’ll see a reversal of the portion size trend?”
Posted by Jake

No sources, but from the news and internet, various places are doing that. I’ve seen a newspaper article on packaged food (e.g., mayonnaise and some others) where the manufacturer had done a 5-10% shrinkage.


sara 06.18.08 at 2:23 am

“The food here is terrible, and in such large portions, too.”


Nabakov 06.18.08 at 2:50 am

“isn’t it only illegal in Melbourne?”

Maybe, but it hasn’t stopped Melbourne resturants from giving me doggy bags – which I take home to fatten up a beagle.


Salazar 06.18.08 at 3:02 am

I saw doggy bags handed out in China. That’s not because portion size is so gigantic there. Rather, when the Chinese take you out to eat, they go all out to make the meal a memorable experience and offer lots of dishes. At the same time, it’s considered acceptable, in some situations, to take leftovers home so that no food will be wasted.


Tom T. 06.18.08 at 3:20 am

When McDonald’s first started in 1955, its only hamburger weighed around 1.6 ounces; now, the largest hamburger patty weighs 8 ounces, an increase of 500 percent.

But how many burgers did someone order at one time back in 1955? White Castle still sells small burgers, for instance, but their slogan is “Buy ‘Em By The Bag!”


geo 06.18.08 at 4:07 am

Industrially produced meat is just awful, nutritionally, hygenically, gustatorily, and ecologically.


tired of blogs 06.18.08 at 4:50 am

Buncha rich people on this site, apparently. If I’m going to lavish $15+ on one meal, there’s no way I’m not taking home — and eating — whatever’s left. I’d suggest that, if you consistently have a lot of leftovers that you send back to the kitchen as waste, that you give the leftovers to somebody outside (as suggested above) or just learn to order less in the first place. Many restaurants can make a half portion of most any dish on the menu.

Also, I don’t think I’ve ever heard the term “doggy bag” used in any moderately nice restaurant. Generally, the waiter will ask if you’d like a box.

At one fantastic restaurant in Honolulu (Bali, at the Hilton Hawaiian Village), if you get your food boxed up at the end of the meal, somebody in the kitchen supplements the leftovers and arranges them enough to be a pretty attractive presentation. And while you’re there, make sure you try the macadamia-crusted opakapaka. Delicious.


a 06.18.08 at 5:25 am

“American restaurants are much, much better. Twice the food for half the price, better variety, faster, better service, more space.”

I’d agree on the more space, anyway.

Since nobody can come out and say the obvious, I will sniff it: American restaurants are just another example of Americans concern with quantity rather than quality. Quality requires taste and is considered elitist, but anyone can judge quantity.


Britta 06.18.08 at 5:54 am

As an American living in Adelaide, I generally ask to take my leftovers home after most meals out (I find Australian portion sizes to be similar to America’s, unless you go to one of those all you can eat “food by the bucketful places” in the US). I have never had a waiter refuse, but I did hear a rumor about it being illegal.

I agree with @79. As a poorish person, I am going to get as much value out of my meal out as possible. Generally, I eat half the dinner at the restaurant, and take the other half home. I have never thrown out restaurant leftovers, no matter how mediocre they were the next day. Sure, it’s tempting to eat more if it’s on the plate, but with a small amount of willpower, it’s quite possible not to.

I think a big part of the problem is that foods that used to be fairly healthy are not necessarily healthy any longer, but once people think of them as “good for you” it can be hard to make the conceptual switch. For example, I worked at a coffee shop, and I had lots of people tell me they were drinking coffee because it was “healthier” than soda. That may be the case if you’re drinking black coffee, or coffee with a little milk, but these people were ordering 16 oz vanilla lattes with whipped cream. The problem is that a latte isn’t “coffee,” it’s milk with a shot of espresso. People who would never drink 16 oz of whole milk at one sitting can down multiple large lattes in a day without blinking an eye. Then of course, there’s all the sugar from whatever flavour they have added. Ditto the people who ordered chai lattes because “tea is better than coffee.”


Britta 06.18.08 at 5:56 am

oops, I meant I agree with @81


SG 06.18.08 at 7:25 am

but britta, you’re in Adelaide, the most culinarily and culturally advanced city on the globe (except maybe for Hiroshima – it’s a tight contest). You get to have really good food that’s healthy and cheap, at restaurants with good service and an accomodating attitude, in nice surroundings, with a lifestyle that’s just better for the same cost, and if you don’t want restaurant food you can go to the best markets in the world, and if you want junk food you can get a pie floater. How can your opinion help the rest of us struggling mortals?


Britta 06.18.08 at 8:21 am


Let me just take a bite of my leftover pizza made with amazing chewy yet crisp crust drizzled with olive oil, sea salt, tomatoes, and fresh mozzarella and basil before I answer your post. It’ll have to be quick, because I’m about to go on a cheese and wine tour of the McLaren Vale, where I’ll sample some basket press Shiraz paired with fresh goat cheese. :)

But seriously, I will have to visit Hiroshima some time, I never knew they were known for good food. I’ve always wanted to go to Japan, hopefully I’ll make it there in the next couple of years.

(BTW, did you know Adelaide has amazing sushi? :)


bad Jim 06.18.08 at 8:40 am

Pretty much anything you can think of is both a dessert topping and a furniture polish. Yum!

Of course obesity involves both sloth and gluttony. Both portion size and commuting distance have been correlated with body diameter. How could they not? Sweet drinks, even diet soft drinks, are heavily implicated.

What is to be done? The same thing that needs to be done for any other problem. First, elect a Democrat. Second, make public transit available, then practical, then acceptable, then enjoyable. The desirable side effect is that there’s lots of walking involved when you rely on it; people in Tokyo and Paris tend to be skinny.

Third, no soft drinks for kids. No vending machines at school. You don’t want them crippled for life by a greedy population of fat cells girdling their girth.


JohnTh 06.18.08 at 8:45 am

Re #81 & #83, I guess the point is that a European eating out will (in my experience) feel let down if the food is not better quality than he/she could have cooked for themselves at home, whereas Americans, by the looks of the previous comments, eat out more for better quantity and experience. (I certainly hope that using that most people using decent ingredients could cook better than the average low-end mid-West restaurant). And that’s fine, it’s a cultural choice – but it probably is linked to the higher level of obesity
sg: Good call on the culinary glories of Hiroshima – if I could find a good okinomiyaki place nearer to home I’d be consuming excess calories in no time!


bad Jim 06.18.08 at 9:14 am

I’ll always remember one dinner I spent with my brother and a colleague I’d never met before, at a nice hotel in San Diego. None of us could finish the enormous meat portions we were served. My brother’s dogs would have killed us for the scraps (with bones) we couldn’t bring back to them.

Sometimes we bring back doggy bags just so we can gratify the hell out of our dogs. I’m certain that they get more out of the bones than I do.


belle le triste 06.18.08 at 9:16 am

what is the social history of US doggybag? is it quite recent? did it in fact start with chinese restaurants (totally a guess — but takeaway culture plus the chinese courtesy thing noted above somewhere would make this make sense)?

i can gin up a good improvised (non-sneery) cluster of reasons why it’s been longer developing in the UK, tracing back to the fact that british food when eaten out before c.1975 was VERY LARGELY PLUPERFECTLY AWFUL whatever yr class background, so no one would actually WANT to take any away with them — and that the (fairly successful) battle to inject quality since then would have been VERY leery of mere-quantity-as-substitute (hence gordon ramsay’s tantrum outlined above, which i judge a late outlier)

(ethnic takeaway culture took hold largescale in the UK c.1965-75 i think — maybe earlier in london and the western ports)


Britta 06.18.08 at 9:26 am

I agree with you. Indeed, the fact that I live in culinary heaven means I’m even that more likely to take food home–if it’s great, why waste a bite?

Also, eating habits are probably more class differentiated in America than in Europe. I spent a summer living in Brittany, and you could get high quality produce and bread in the 7-11 equivalent. Definitely not true in America. Most of the Americans I know with cultural capital (i.e. cultural upper middle class), tend to enjoy food as much as Europeans. They seek out fresh, local, healthy ingredients, are often good cooks, and have high standards when they eat out. These people wouldn’t be caught dead at a Denny’s any more than the average French tourist.
Related, being fat is very much a class marker, much like crooked teeth. Chances are if you wander around Harvard, you won’t see many overweight people, if any. Wander around a local food court in middle America, and it’ll be the reverse.

Finally, I know I just did it above, but I think a lot of people on this thread are using French/Italian/Mediterranean cuisine as a stand-in for European cuisine as a whole. There’s lots of European cuisine not celebrated by the likes of Michael Pollan, and for a good reason. Certainly, when my parents lived in Norway in the 70s on a tight budget, tasty, affordable and healthy cuisine was limited. (Not that there’s anything wrong with Norwegian food per se :) That’s probably changing now with a more homogenized “European” lifestyle across the continent, but it’s not like all of Europe is the culinary mecca that certain parts of western Europe are.


belle le triste 06.18.08 at 10:05 am

sir henry rawlinson: “that was inedible muck! and there wasn’t enough of it!”
guest: “was there not too much gristle in the blancmange?”


Tom T. 06.18.08 at 11:44 am

The cultural and class explanations are fun, but no one’s mentioned food costs. How much more expensive is food in Europe than in the US? To what extent do smaller portions at European restaurants simply reflect more expensive inputs?


Matt McIrvin 06.18.08 at 12:13 pm

I actually eat more than half of the doggy-bag food, I’d say. When we eat takeout, which is pretty frequently, it’s even more likely because the initial serving is not so different from the subsequent ones.

However, it’s absolutely true that I tend to eat more when the portion size is bigger. And when I was in Spain the autumn before last, I was struck by the rational portion sizes I got at restaurants; the portions would look really small for a few seconds before I realized that I’d just been given as much as I could reasonably eat.


Tracy W 06.18.08 at 1:12 pm

Portion-sizes in the NZ and the UK have got to the stage now that if I go out and I really want to have dessert I’ll only order an entree (or, for Americans, a starter). And half the time I then decide that I’m too full for the dessert anyway.


Shelby 06.18.08 at 4:35 pm

First, elect a Democrat.

Yes, bad jim, because your politics are so clearly relevant to portion sizes and exercise habits. Ah, for the halcyon days when Bill Clinton was in office, a model of restraint and fitness to us all! And damn W anyway, with his pointless running and bicycling and brush-clearing and what-not.

Re transit, to an extent it’s true. But New York is the most heavily transit-supported city in the U.S., and believe me, New Yorkers as a whole are no model of fitness for the country. Must be all that eating-out they do…


Uncle Kvetch 06.18.08 at 4:38 pm

(or, for Americans, a starter)

You mean an appetizer.



Greatzamfir 06.18.08 at 5:57 pm

In my experience, Americans cook a lot less than Europeans, perhaps to some extent because they are ahead in a trend to work more and use the money to buy good-quality takeaway or eat out.

I know Americans who never ever cook a meal, which is unbelievable for my parents, weird for me but will perhaps be normal for my kids ( I hope not).

As a result, Americanns see eating out more as a stndard alternative for eating at home, while for Europeans ( or at least in some countries of Europe) eating out relates to eating at home as going to the cinema relates to watching TV.

If you don’t cook paying, say, 30% more to get a double portion and a doggy bag makes sense. For me, I would prefer to use the 30% to cook my own meal the next day.

But many people do not enjoy cooking. For them the ‘American’ approach is attractive, and I think it is slowly catching on here, sadly including the fat people.


clew 06.18.08 at 6:19 pm

The ‘clean your plate’ rule made sense in the days when you served yourself from the family dish; it was rapid feedback that if you took too much you’d suffer for it, gnawing miserably through the congealing excess while everyone else had pie.

In fact, I have a faint memory of Lillian Gilbreth thinking through this rule and the amendments for how many brussels sprouts a parent could fairly assign a child… Maybe that was Miss Manners, though. Anyway: a reasonable rule in a different context.

(shelby; W was born rich, Bill born poor. The important thing is how their policies affect everyone else.)


roac 06.18.08 at 7:10 pm

what is the social history of US doggybag? is it quite recent?

The practice was common in the ’50s (I speak from memory), but always with the pretense that the dog was going to get the leftovers — hence the term “doggybag.” The restaurants played along with a straight face. Some of them bought special bags from their suppliers. I remember one where the bags said “Bones for Bowser!”

(The paradigm restaurant meal in those days was “prime rib” — I don’t know what it is called outside the US — a standing rib beef roast. The meat next to the bone is the best; it would be a sin to throw it away. You pick it up and gnaw it to get every morsel, which you could hardly do in a classy restaurant, even today.)

As far as my experience goes it is universally assumed that the food will be eaten by people. It is a little surprising that “doggybag” persists.


roac 06.18.08 at 7:17 pm

“universally assumed nowadays“, I meant to say.


Shelby 06.18.08 at 7:36 pm


What does it matter who was born rich or poor? I was just pointing out that electing a Democrat does not lead to better eating or health habits in the U.S. population. The trends toward weight gain and lack of exercise were the same with Clinton as president as they are with Bush; they’re just now more advanced.

It is remotely possible that federal policies set by the President could make a marginal difference — but I can’t imagine it actually happening. Congressional action is slightly more likely to matter, as Congress determines things like national transportation policy and funding. The actual political swing-point is local — cities and municipal regions. And there, (D) or (R) makes almost no difference.


Adam 06.18.08 at 8:00 pm

@ roac

I don’t think the term “doggy bag” means anything anymore. It’s almost never used in restaurants themselves, rather, “would you like a box” is the common question at the end. I think the term “doggy bag” persists only a helpful way to refer to such boxes.

Also, is it not possible to get a box in Europe? The only time I ever thought to ask was at a Neapolitan pizzeria. The had an ample supply of boxes on hand, so I doubt it was an uncommon practice. Is this limited to pizzerias, or will purveyors of haute cuisine oblige you as well?


Anthony 06.18.08 at 8:19 pm

One factor in the expansion of restaurant portions in the U.S. is the rising cost of everything related to running a restaurant, _except_ food. Restaurants have to raise their prices to keep up with the increased costs of rent, labor, cleaning supplies, permits, and taxes, none of which provide visible increased benefit to the customer. So they increase the prices just a little more, and significantly increase the portion size, so the customer sees a tangible benefit to the increased price.


clew 06.18.08 at 8:39 pm

Shelby — *You* referred to the personal habits of the two presidents, which can be (correlatively) explained by their economic backgrounds without recourse to their political leanings.

I agree with you that what Congress does matters more than what the President does, but the President certainly has enough political influence to sway Congress on this point.

It isn’t really a local issue, though, because the environment in which towns and cities (and then citizens) can make decisions is shaped by larger entities. For instance, I’d really rather ‘we’ didn’t take money out of the Amtrak budget as a ‘loan’ to the highways, with no plan AFAIK to pay it back; that’s not a local-level decision. Most of the big-scale transport and zoning decisions aren’t; Portland OR managed to undo one, at considerable civic expense, but the experience made clear that the big money wasn’t really under local control.


novakant 06.18.08 at 8:45 pm

The pizzeria probably had take-away too, no? That would explain the abundance of boxes. And it might generally be more common in places that have take-away, but I’ve never ever seen somebody asking for a doggy bag myself, so it cannot be that common.

I think haute cuisine restaurants might take offense at you planning to reheat their creations ;)


Iain Coleman 06.18.08 at 9:29 pm

I think haute cuisine restaurants might take offense at you planning to reheat their creations ;)

I imagine asking Gordon Ramsay for a doggy-bag would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.


mollymooly 06.18.08 at 9:43 pm

so it is only the main course you can put in your box? Could you put, say, half a bowl of chowder, one lambchop, and two profiteroles in it?


SG 06.18.08 at 10:06 pm

mollymooly, when I was last in Sydney at a lebanese restaurant my friend piled in bread, grilled vegetables, 3 different dips and some saucy thing, so that by the time it was all inthere the whole thing had already turned to sludge. We tried to tell her, but she didn’t listen… and wasn’t that whole experience your prototypical fattening disaster! We tried asking the waitress how big the serves were and she lied, so we ended up with twice as much food as we needed and all of it ruined in the doggybag. Disaster!

I spent 2 years in Japan and I never once felt bloated from overeating after leaving a restaurant. I think there is a cultural pattern there, and I would love to know the reason why.

britta, if you go to Hiroshima you need to find a copy of the gethiroshima guide map for foreigners (gethiroshima.com will tell you where) and then go on a bar crawl. I swear that Japan is the only place in the civilised world where you can buy all-you-can-drink cocktails ($30 for 2 hours in my town) and where cocktails are routinely cheaper than beer, and bars are routinely hyper-civilised. Hiroshima has a thousand of the best bars you have ever seen in your life, and many of them are in the gethiroshima map. I particularly recommend koba and lovepopcafe (though there are many many others). And you can visit a Host Bar for $20, all you can drink and all you can flirt! And then get okonomiyaki for your hangover!


abb1 06.18.08 at 10:48 pm

Mmmm, clam chowdah… Mm-mm…


cm 06.19.08 at 3:29 am

#74 and #104 beat me to it — it appears to be largely a matter of large semi-fixed costs of running the business dwarfing the cost of the actual food.

There is a similar phenomenon embedded in many pricing models — up to a certain sales volume, “covering” the cost of business plus minimal profit targets is an imperative putting floors under prices, after that incremental sales can be at marginal cost.

How else can it be explained that a one gallon bottle of milk is 4.79 in Safeway and two one gallons bottles are 5.59 — an increment of 80c? Likewise, a “single” sandwich at the local Subways is $3 (the more fancy versions close to 4), a double $5.


Britta 06.19.08 at 4:44 am

$30 for all you can drink cocktails is definitely a reason to go to Hiroshima. I’ll probably be living in China at some point in the next couple of years, so I can hopefully make it over there. Did they have good yakitori as well? I’ll need a midnight meat on a stick snack if I’m going to get the full benefit of all these cheap cocktails ;)

Speaking of China, it’s not as good as cheap cocktails, but if you’re ever there, try to get your hands on some Qingdao (Tsingtao) draught beer brewed in Qingdao, it’s an arm and a leg better than the bitter pisswater they sell overseas as Qingdao.


Laura 06.19.08 at 6:16 am

oh, I have to smile at comments to the effect that frugal people take home their leftovers. Eating out is already an expensive luxury.


SG 06.19.08 at 7:24 am

britta, you will find much good yakitori, and when last I went to a yakitori restaurant it was recommended in the gethiroshima map (I cannot overstate the goodness of that map). Hiroshima is about so much more than the Peace Park, it really is a wonderful town to visit or live in – I recommend it thoroughly.

I enjoyed Chinese beer when I was there, except when it dehydrated me in the mountains…


Stephen 06.19.08 at 11:54 am

Huh. Under 130 pounds here, and I can usually finish all I’m served in an American restaurant. Even if the food is good, if there’s not enough of it to feel full I’m dissatisfied.


ckdexter 06.19.08 at 1:56 pm

“$30 for all you can drink cocktails is definitely a reason to go to Hiroshima.”

There are also a couple of really great bars in the Ground Zero neighborhood that are a great reason to visit New York! Good times!


Shelby 06.19.08 at 4:11 pm


I’m not interested in further back-and-forth on the other points, but Portland is right now in the midst of deciding on its largest infrastructure project since the freeways went in — the new I-5 Columbia River bridge. It’s intensely local. What project “undo” did you have in mind?


Katherine 06.19.08 at 6:40 pm

That article on portion sizes is kind of a crock–very much cherry picked. Pizza slices seem exactly the same size to me as they did in elementary school. The closest equivalent to an 8 oz. cup of coffee is a 12 oz. cup of coffee, not a 16 oz. mocha with whipped cream. Small hamburgers are still widely available. etc. etc. etc.


Katherine 06.19.08 at 6:42 pm

(though, they are right about the default soda size & the bagel size creep thing. The 20 oz. soda bottle in particular is really annoying.)


Adam 06.19.08 at 8:25 pm

The default soda size is definitely true for bottles, but when I was a child (~20 years ago), convenience stores were already selling ‘big gulps’ and whatnot. The bagel size also seems misleading to me. The bagel quoted as ‘standard’ 20 years ago looks like the “Lenders bagel”. However, any New York bagel shop would have a much larger size bagel than what you would buy in the supermarket.


Barry 06.19.08 at 10:35 pm

I noticed this was up to 120 comments – what a nice, fat juicy comments thread!


fatty arbuckle 06.19.08 at 10:50 pm

A new study concludes that Australians are now more obese than Americans:



SG 06.19.08 at 11:25 pm

katherine, are you seriously trying to deny that serving sizes – particularly at fast food chains – have increased over the last decade? ’cause that is crazy talk!

(And remember it’s not just about the size but about the calorie content – I bet the tomato base in that pizza, and the dough, contain a lot more sugar than they did when we were kids, and are comparatively cheaper than they were, while a healthy snack is much more expensive)


SG 06.19.08 at 11:28 pm

In fact,it would be a ridiculous indictment of the food industry if this weren’t true. Mcdonalds et al are industrial food producers, not providers of high quality nutritional meals. Under the increased cost pressure of 20 years of growth in that industry, they must have found ways to lower costs and increase profit, and the simplest way they can do that is by using shittier and shittier ingredients, within a taste paradigm that is obviously high-sugar high-fat low-vegetable.

The same is true of starbucks et al. To compete they have to diversify their product line and find ways to make it appeal more than the competitors. The 2 obvious cheap ways to do that are value for money (more coffee and milk for the same cost) and sugar flavourings (those godawful syrups). To make equal profits they up the size.

After all, it’s not as if taste is the selling point for either of these chains.

Surely any other outcome would mean they were very poor industrial outfits?


Slocum 06.20.08 at 12:58 am

katherine, are you seriously trying to deny that serving sizes – particularly at fast food chains – have increased over the last decade? ‘cause that is crazy talk!

Nah — the Big Mac, the Super-sized Fries and all of that are much older than 10. The trend during the last decade in fast food has been toward lower fat meals with fresher ingredients — Subway, PotBelly, Chipotle, Baja Fresh, QDoba, Panera Bread, Noodles & Company, Cosi, etc. The burger chains haven’t been growing nearly as fast as the (healthier, better-tasting) alternatives.


Adam 06.20.08 at 6:54 am

@sg : high quality nutritional meal and tasty don’t always go hand in hand. McDonalds is terrible for you, but it is tasty. I’m not saying you should eat it, but anyone how makes the argument that their food doesn’t taste good hasn’t really had it. (and yes, I know that there is better – the fact that tastier food exists doesn’t make McDonalds any less tasty). The same goes for Starbucks. I’d prefer to sip espresso in Italy, but I don’t get to do that. For all the gripping people do about Starbucks, it is also fairly tasty. I just object to people treating mochas and frappacinos (sp?) simply invigorating beverages when they are really desserts. If you want to drink a coffee based dessert, feel free to drink a Starbucks milk-drink. But don’t pretend it’s equivalent to a regular coffee.

Also, as far as the sugar content of tomato sauces, that depends when “when we were kids” was. I’m 26, so when I go back to “when I was a kid”, sugar was already highly prevalent. That was right around they started hyping “low fat” foods which really just boosted the sugar content. My only beef with that article is that if you go back 20 years, a lot of the transitions to mega-sized foods had already happened – that was my childhood and adolescence. To a certain degree, many fast food restaurants have already begun backing down on this.


abb1 06.20.08 at 7:33 am

I don’t feel that McDonald’s food is tasty. They have good marketing, but every time I actually try it – I feel disappointed. Real McDonald’s food is nothing like the idea of it.


SG 06.20.08 at 7:39 am

well it’s true Adam, I have never eaten anything from Maccas except 3 or 4 “fries”, which were disgusting. I suppose one shouldn’t judge a fast food restaurant by its fries,eh? Regardless of whether it is actually objectively tasty though, surely maccas food is like grunge music – it cannot deviate outside very narrow definitions of taste, and so has to compete in a packed marketplace through other points such as price, speed and regularity…?

And look, I can remember when the small coffee size disappeared at the coffee chains in Australia, maybe 5 years ago. I can also remember how much bigger everything was when they first opened. I remember when krispy kreme doughnuts (which I also haven’t eaten) opened. These are moments in time when the calorie-intensive binge-eating choices available to Australians not only widened, but began to trump on price the healthy options. And the claim that these chain stores are producing more healthy food is laughable – maccas salad bar options have been shown to have as many calories as their burgers, but more of it as sugar. I can’t believe people are even trying to deny this phenomenon, it requires the dual traits of no-historical-memory and wow! how-did-all-these-people-get-so-fat naivete at the same time. It’s the food, people!!

But I agree adam, the shift to low-fat foods I suspect reflects some industrial effect which we have been fooled into thinking the companies introduced as a response to our demand for healthy food. I suspect it is related to sugar subsidies.


bad Jim 06.20.08 at 8:25 am

When I was a kid I could get a 6oz Coke out of a machine for a nickel. Now I’m 56 and I buy wine at Trader Joe’s: Clos de Bois Zinfandel, $7.99 for a 750ml bottle.


Britta 06.20.08 at 8:25 am

-I thought coffee sizes in Australia were small, at least compared to America. You’d be horrified to see the “large” size there, enough caffeine to kill a small horse. In Oz, most of the coffee places I go are more like cafes, that serve your latte in an 8 oz cup with saucer and don’t give a size choice, so there might be more “Starbucks” style places I don’t know about though.

I think in America at least, the whole “coffee dessert” thing hasn’t seeped in, most people view their frappacino as a beverage. Also, people seem to follow whatever food fad to an extreme, even if it obviously isn’t healthy from a common sense point of view. It used to be carbo loading on refined carbohydrates and “low fat” sugary things, now it’s stuffing oneself with high fatty foods and avoiding any and all carbs like the plague. I had someone criticise me for eating carrots because they were too “high carb.”

Another difference (though it doesn’t seem to keep Aussies much thinner) is how expensive junk food is here compared to America. Candy bars are $2, and a family size bag of chips is $3. A can of coke in the supermarket is over $1. In America, junk food is often dirt cheap–bags of chips 2 for 99 cents, 50 cent cans of coke, etc. A doughnut in America is about 80 cents, here it can be $2. The price certainly makes me less likely to make an impulse junk food buy, esp. when I can get a bag of green beans for 75 cents.


Dave 06.20.08 at 10:12 am

Go to Paris, sit down in a neighbourhood cafe, discuss the daily specials with the waitress, eat, read the paper, finish it off with a petit cafe, smile….

Unless you’re paid in dollars, of course…


roac 06.20.08 at 3:04 pm

Did I really see somebody saying nice things about Subway? Subway has one virtue only — it is CHEAP. To see why, all you have to do is walk up to the counter and look at the ingredients, which on casual visual inspection reveal themselves to be of the lowest possible quality.

As for healthful, I dunno. Their spokesman used to be that guy who supposedly lost a whole bunch of weight, but they appear to have replaced him with the father from “Family Guy,” who has not.


Eric H 06.21.08 at 3:41 am

I once ate at a Chinese restaurant in Mexico with some friends. Way too much food (we each ordered an entre and then passed them around, but each was enough for 2). But in trying to figure out how to ask for a doggy bag, I decided that it might be unwise to translate literally (“Bolsa de perrito? Sure thing, be right back … [from the kitchen: yipe, yipe, yipe, bang!] … almost ready, sir, more water? And how about a box for your other food?”)


UK Katherine 06.21.08 at 8:08 am

Yup, as a “European”, the idea of a doggy bag from most of the places I eat out is pretty horrible. How would my asparagus risotto survive? I can’t imagine that being nice to eat the next day.

I can see it working for some sorts of food (yes, I eat cold pizza and last night’s Chinese takeaway), but for most proper restaurant experiences, nope. But then, I suspect that, as someone said above, for the most part if I am eating a restaurant, I am expecting a special culinary experience.

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