Expert opinion

7 commentslast update:Aug 31, 2011

The US & overconsumption: a European view

My first visit to the USA took place in June 2006. I was told to go and visit that year's World Pork Expo, in Iowa. Off I went – visiting Des Moines and Chicago in one go – and I came back with a truckload full of experiences.

The major storyline I kept telling, once I was back home: in the US, everything is HUGE. Some of the enormity I had anticipated. For instance, Sears Tower is one of the world's tallest buildings – located right in the heart of impressive downtown Chicago.

Crossing gigantic Mississippi river at Davenport, Iowa, was unbelievable as well. I knew she had to be vast, but I had never seen anything as wide in all my life.

There were other examples. I fully enjoyed the spacious rooms in American hotels. More than twice the size of any European hotel room – and so were the beds! Rolling over until you could roll no more and still be in the same bed. Great!

Cars – the amounts of pick-ups made any vehicle in Europe look tiny. Even the smallest car in the most budget rental deal I could find was two times as large as my standard-size hatchback in the Netherlands.

The most impressive, in my memory, were the meals. I must admit to be a lover of fast food every now and then so a close encounter with some proper American burger place was quickly on my programme.

I clearly remember this one-off hamburger place – it must’ve been the first or second day after my arrival. I felt really hungry and ordered a meal with fries and a large burger. Mouth watering I was waiting for what was to come. Bring ‘em on!

Once the waitress had brought the plate, I felt guilty. Staring at the enormous heaps of fries and the gigantic burger right in front of me, I felt my stomach turn upside down and I knew this lover of fast food would lose the first close encounter… This I could never finish…

That was when, even in meals, I recognised America’s preference for ‘big’. Taking the view I’d just like to be served as much as I require, I have refrained from ordering starters in no matter what US restaurant. And I started to grasp why the US seems to have so many excessively overweight people – another example how ‘United States’ and ‘big’ go together.

Meat-heavy diets
This week, the US Pork Checkoff, refuted a critical article in the culinary magazine Frontburner. The author of the original article, Tara Mataraza Desmond, was quoted to have said that "meat-heavy diets have been consistently linked to increased risk of cancer, heart disease, obesity, diabetes and osteoporosis."

On behalf of the Pork Checkoff, dietitian Adria Sheil-Brown replied. She wrote: “Consumption survey analysis shows that despite an average amount of meat and meat equivalents of 5.3 ounces per day by Americans, only 44% of all individuals two years and older, 62% of men 20 years and older, and 37% of women 20 years and older, consume at least the minimum recommended amounts from the meat group.”

Her conclusion was: "Clearly, Americans are not over-consuming meat."

I appreciate the attempts of the Pork Checkoff to protect the pork business. I just have one question for the Checkoff people: How to match the statistics with reality?


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    Over-consumption in the US - it's an obvious fact! Bottom line - this is totally unnecessary!!! We are searching for answers to help future generations because we are exhausting our resources - if the general public in the US ate healthier portions then the resources would stretch a little further. This helps to save future generations, but also current ones.

    It's sickening... figuratively and literally! I'd be interested to know if Americans agree. Do they eat too much, or does the rest of the world simply eat too little?

    Many healthy Americans look after themselves and eat appropriate portions, but it cannot be denied that throught the world Americans have a reputation of overeating and being fat. Fact! It is sad to think that kids are born into a society where the food portions of a monstrous size are considered to be absolutely normal. As a consequence, the amount of food that is considered "acceptable" (without question) will continue to be the norm, as will obesity, diseases, low self-esteems, doctors bills, drugs etc etc etc. The cycle continues...


    Are educated Americans actually aware that the amount that the general population consumes is over-the-top? If they know it, have they simply lost control? Or do they simply deny it? Are they oblivious to it?

    I hope some Americans comment here.

    It's a knock-off effect too, a vicious cycle - the pigs need to be produced to satisfy demand. We need more food for the pigs - where do we get it from. Issues of GM crops surface. The pigs are kept under more intense conditions because more need to be produced. This sets off animal welfare concerns. Meanwhile Americans are eating hamburger after unnecessary hamburger...

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    Josh Haitel

    In response to your "overconsumption" article, it is a typical European observation, smaller is better. Although I am not an American, I was born and raised in the Netherlands like you I live in the U.S. now and am a manager for a large intergrated hog company. I will give an American "view best I can" Americans have many more freedoms than Europeans and vast resources and therefore, rightly or wrongly do not feel the need to conserve unless it saves money. Americans do have a huge problem when it comes to obesity, this however is related to the excessive intake of carbohydrates and sugar, most people that are way overweight have a meat poor diet, the little meat that they do eat is often deepfried.

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    Jerry Foster

    Rachel, you hope has been realized, I'm an American and I am commenting.

    It strikes me as odd that people in other countries complain so much about excesses in the U.S. and all the while, so many people want to come here and enjoy those things that some consider to be excesses.

    Another thing that strikes me as odd is the situation where a person in the pork business would complain about people eating too much meat. American farmers have worked hard to make consumers understand that meat is good food. Recently, it has become somewhat obvious that we have slacked off on that task and bit. We need to do a better job of responding to detracters of our product.

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    I am an American and yes there is a problem with obesity in the US. However, there is a problem with obesity in other nations that are also experiencing an increase in dollars for food expenditures. With that said, it is not the issue of eating meat that leads to obesity, it is the lack of balance of diet that is high in non-nutritional items like fried foods, baked goods, sodas etc. that add calories without really yielding nutrition. Combine excess intake of calories and lessened physical exercise and you will gain weight. To reduce weight, nutritionists agree that a diet of lean protein and veggies and much less non-nutritional carbohydrates will lead to a better weight. Combine that with increased physical activity and weight control can happen. Consumers are not force fed and have such a wide range of foods to choose from. I would never advocate for the removal of those choices. However, we do need to be aware of the consequences of our own actions and act accordingly. At least some major restaurants are now adding more healthful items to their menus in hopes to have better choices for a wide variety of people. In short, yes we do need to moderate our choices, but to state that eating pork or any other meat leads to obesity does not touch on the real cause of obesity. Consumption of meat does not lead to obesity in and of itself, eating fried meats with all the other sides and sodas and such, now that is a different story. I eat lean pork as much as possible as it provides a great tasting, healthy meal along with a side of veggies. Not all Americans are unaware of portion size or waist size!

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    Godofredo Miltenburg

    Tipical "dutch" article, where every meal is very small. look the germans drinking beer, also in big amounts.
    Godofredo Miltenburg soon off dutch imigrants in Brasil.

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    I am an Aussie, and we have an obese population here as well. People should eat a balanced diet. Take aways, alcohol, fries, cakes sweets, soft drinks. Dont find Pork in any of these foods. Meat can only be bad if it is put in to oil, by deep frying or shallow frying. Education is the only chance we have of slimming the world. How to do.....I am not really sure. On the other side of the coin we have populations that are missing out on food. How do we extend the food bowl to some of these countries.....I guess our governments will come to some agreement somewhere along the line!

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    Chiek Er

    I'm from Singapore. I have lived in Australia for 6 years, the USA for three years. Now I'm living in Norway.

    And so I see the the difference in lifestyle and affordability of food which influence the way we eat and exercise.

    My observation is affordability of food and the usuage of personal vehicles are big factors in the obesity problems.

    Speaking for Norway, food and alcohol are so expensive that Norwegians cannot afford to over eat or drink too much beer. Furthermore, lesser dependence on personal cars when one live in cities and town and relying more on public transport and walking to get around do impact on the physique.

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