From Here to There by Jane Shey: On Consumption ~ Annapolis Capital Punishment

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

From Here to There by Jane Shey: On Consumption

This is the latest installment of "From Here to There" by Jane Shey, an Annapolitan who lives half the year in Leuven, Belgium and half the year here while she completes her PhD: 

Frequently, I am asked for my impressions of Europe which I have many and will share over the course of time. But equally interesting to me is the observations of Europeans when they visit the US. In February, between snow storms I arrived in the US to attend a research conference in New Orleans and was joined by 6 of my Belgium colleagues. They have all visited the US in the past but as infrequent visitors they scrutinize the
surroundings better than I.

The first morning in New Orleans, we had a 20 minute walk to the hotel where the conference was held. Their first observation was that no one was walking. Yes, I noticed we were the only group walking on the sidewalk, where they existed. We were flanked by rush hour traffic (all the people who were not walking) and the second observation was the size of our vehicles. Another observation I took for granted. At that point, a Hummer went by and one of my colleagues commented that the Hummer probably had more square meters than his apartment. Good call, I live in a 12 x 12 studio and I think he is probably
correct. The final comment of our morning stroll was how large Americans were. I said
add up your first two comments and you get to #3.

Lunch that day was at a brewery chain restaurant that we also have in Annapolis. When
my colleagues saw the portions on the plate, they asked if I was starving in Belgium
because the size of the portion served is not seen here in Belgium. The other challenge
that day was to find a store that sold fresh fruit. In Belgium, I pass by 5 or 6 stores that sell
fruit in the one mile bike ride to my office. Of course, despite an internet search, we could
find nothing and at that point I explained the concept of a “food desert” which I think is an
American trademark. The last day of the conference one of my friends said she could not
wait to get back to Belgium and have a piece of fresh bread and some cheese.
One of my research partners stayed in the US for 3 weeks to travel with his girlfriend
through 8 southern states. The first thing he said when he returned was, “Americanʼs are
eating themselves to death”. He decided that rather than drive on interstates which can be
boring, they would take state roads traveling from Texas and Oklahoma to Tennessee and
Georgia. He said in the small towns everyone was heavy and they had trouble finding a
meal that was not fried or 75% meat. He said after a couple of days they craved fresh fruit
which they could not find in the convenience stories that functioned as grocery stores.
I hosted Belgium friends with two kids in Annapolis a couple of years ago and after a visit
at one of the Smithsonianʼs, they had lunch at a food court which was a series of fast food
establishments. That night the mother said her children could not eat those kind of meals
every day because it just wasnʼt healthy and they started packing their own lunches. A
landmark health care bill was just signed into law in the U.S. after much angst and debate.
It is to bad that an equal amount of time was not spent discussing one of the factors
leading to our health problems - the food we eat. We may have made a change in our
health care delivery system but we have yet to come to grips with one of the major driving
factors of chronic disease in our country.

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