Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Underbelly Of Life 10/9/10

The Irish sausages were great.

My mass stocking-up of familiar UK goods from the British Shop next door to the King’s Head, and the Tudor Shop opposite, in Santa Monica, reminded me of all the foodstuffs I missed from home.

I wolfed down the Heinz baked beans like a hog returning from boot camp; the chicken pie flew down my throat like a flying saucer; and the sausages . . . Oh, the sausages.

Until discovering this little corner of a foreign field that is forever England (at least, that’s what I’m hoping), I’ve been living pretty healthily here. The lack of accessible takeaways near my apartment in Beverly Hills ensured that I wasn’t going to bed monosodium glutamated up to the gills three times a week, and I regularly went to the gym and walked pretty much everywhere.

The healthy living looks set to continue in my new life in Santa Monica, with Sports Club LA’s sister gym (which also has a huge pool) in West LA, and the close proximity of several farmers’ markets. I also walk 30 blocks to the beach, a journey that takes only 40 minutes (two days and 40 minutes, if I call into an Irish pub en route).

But now there’s that Brit temptation threatening to put a spanner in my good works when I finally reach the ocean.

I know how to watch what I eat, though, and what I put into my stomach has always been something I have been able to control. But the presence of home food in my cupboards has once more made me aware of just how very differently we eat back in the UK, compared to US folk, who seem to fall into two camps: basically, greedy buggers and nibblers, and it’s not hard to spot the difference.

The greedy buggers flock to chain restaurants such as the Cheesecake Factory or Il Pastaio, and order way too much, but eat it all anyway, for fear of not getting their money’s worth.

The nibblers can be seen hanging out in healthy sandwich/salad hostelries where, upon ordering the Caesar salad, they will add: “ . . . but no cheese, no anchovies, no dressing, and easy on the leaves.”

That doesn’t mean that there aren’t fat nibblers, too; there are. They just don’t like to be seen to be eating. They therefore manage a soupcon of kobe beef and take the rest home in a box to stuff during the Letterman Show.

Thin or fat, they all appear to be obsessed with food, and it plays the most enormous part in their lives, even while on the move - driving, walking, even on the treadmill at the gym. As someone who was brought up to eat two good meals a day and nothing in between, I just cannot get used to the snacking culture. I tell you: their mouths are never empty.

Crisps, nuts, olives, breadsticks . . . Their supermarket trolleys are piled high with junk food, which also turns up on every bar counter and restaurant table, and is consumed by the bucket-load in advance of the main meal.

And when the irritating crunch of their salty orchestra briefly pauses for an intermission, their teeth are chomping on gum, which they eat with mouths wide open, saliva dripping onto their lips. It’s like being on the set of Jaws.

It’s easy to see why 72 million Americans are obese (according to the latest statistics), but nobody seems to be doing anything about it. In the UK, the Food Standards agency has come under criticism for not providing sufficient guidelines regarding healthy eating, but there is still general knowledge, and let’s not forget Jamie Oliver, who heightened awareness among schoolchildren and their parents. But it’s just not as big a deal in the US.

I suspect that the main reason is that fast food is cheap, and with 13% to 17% of Americans living below the federal poverty line at any one time, fast food is going to be high on their limited shopping list.

But what of the percentage that does have money? Why aren’t they eating more healthily? One simple reason: the country’s indulgence of one of the seven deadly sins: Gluttony.

The way they eat in the US is a physical manifestation of the greed in so may other areas of life: the money-grabbing, selfish, mean-spiritedness among the Haves that are the very things that keep so large a percentage - the Have Nots - of the population down; it’s the word of capitalism made flesh, and it is sickening to see.

I have met some really great Americans here, and some absolute monsters; but I find the general greed, both literal and metaphorical, that I witness on a daily basis, increasingly disturbing.

In Britain, we blame the division between the Haves and the Have Nots on our class culture; it’s not called class culture in the US, but it is the same thing.

This week, a report stated that racism under Obama is worse than it was before this first black President came to power. I don’t doubt it, and in Beverly Hills in particular, I was appalled to witness the racism towards anyone who wasn’t white, upper middle strata (“class”, as we know it).

It’s disgusting. It’s inhuman. And in a country in which 92% of the population believes in God, it is utterly hypocritical.

They say that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Not in the blocked arteries of American gluttony it’s not.

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