I am an American expat living in the UK, and I am happy to be living here; food is one of the greatest reasons. Even while I fear this country is going in the same direction as the US in terms of unhealthy diet and an unhealthy relationship with food, I still feel much happier with my diet here in England. People here don’t go out to eat every other day (or even more), people cook more here, people eat more fruit and vegetables here (and not just because they feel like they should), and those vegetables are often fresh rather than frozen. Bought-food in the UK don’t include lists of dozens of unnecessary ingredients in the recipe (who the hell puts high fructose corn syrup in BREAD). I could rant on an on forever. I like my food flavourful, intensive, different, and healthy. I believe all of those things are easily achievable with simple ingredients which still have complex flavours.
Simple foods like breads and fruit juices should not contain 101 ingredients, most of which I’ve never heard of. When I see something in the ingredients list I’ve never heard of, that product goes back on the shelf so I can look it up on the internets when I get home. Nine times out of 10, it’s a wacky preservative cooked up in a lab somewhere. I will not buy that product. In the US (save havens like Whole Foods and Trader Joes) it is increasingly difficult to find products that are simple and not choc-full of preservatives and other crazy things.
And don’t even get me started on the difficulty of being vegetarian, especially since the FDA doesn’t require dairy manufacturers to list whether or not rennet is used (all they require is “enzymes,” which could of course be vegetable, microbial, or animal). Combine that with the desire to eat foods without a million unnecessary ingredients (I mean, come on, who puts gelatin in yoghurt?! That’s just lazy manufacturing) and suddenly my dinner plate gets more empty and/or my grocery bill sky rockets (groceries are actually far cheaper in the UK, believe it or not).
Needless to say, I am feeling happy to be back home. I’m happy to be back in a society where “I’m hungry” translates to heading back home to get dinner started, rather than an immediate need to feed on the closest available snackfood. I generalise heavily I know, but there’s something to be said for it. How can a person have a healthy relationship with food and their body when it’s all based on instant gratification and no knowledge (nor care) of what’s being put into their body?
To be healthy and happy with your body is to have respect for it, and that respect entails an understanding of the foods you eat and a healthy relationship with that food. I think people forget this, and hence comes the inevitable self-loathing in relation to the body, leading then to the roller coaster of fad-diets which again are another example of instant gratification.
I don’t care what the British say about the French; a healthy relationship with food is the one thing they have down pat, and I wish Americans (and also, increasingly, Britains) could somehow follow their lead.