Sunday, June 15, 2008

Scheisse wrapped in a well-designed box

Recently, I've enjoyed the company of friends visiting from Norway. Norway is one of those 'top 5' type countries in the world for practically everything: quality of life, cleanliness, education, social services, health care, employment, child care, quality of locally grown and imported food, and last of all - cost of living. Therefore, it was quite interesting for me to be surprised by some of the things I was surprised by through my visiting friends. I don't know if this represents my aging process and related complacency (God, NO!), or if it's just been so long since I've been overseas that the clarity with which I used to observe such things has faded. (For anyone wondering, I have not been overseas since....2006.)

I suspect that I wasn't expecting to be too surprised by observed differences, other than prices, since our countries are relatively equally robust. However, it was the robustness of a different sort that my friends, and therefore I, observed most frequently.

To start, size. First was People Size. When I was on assignment in Norway, more than one Norwegian observed that I was the first or second ‘regular sized’ American they’d seen on the project. This may have been an anomoly, but there weren’t that many Americans on the project, and I know at least one or two more who were not very large. I’m not talking tall, here.

My friends echoed this sentiment on a few occasions, not menacingly, but rather as an observation. They simply had not seen people of the size and girth in Norway as what they were regularly encountering in the US. The first observance was in a grocery store, in which one woman was so unfortunately obese that she did an about face, got one of the motorized scooter shopping carts, and continued on her way sans foot-power. And, just as when someone points out red flowers that you soon begin seeing everywhere, the same occurred with the observation and discussion about the ‘morbidly obese’ descriptor that the Norwegians had never before heard. We began seeing them everywhere. This was followed by a chance news report stating Colorado as the fittest state in the nation, with only a 46% obesity rate.

Next was Portion sizes. Less is More has probably never been as meaningful before as it is today, in terms of food and drink portions. There are over 200 countries in the world are balancing on a knife's edge in their efforts to fight food shortages, but you'd never know that traveling cross country.

We were trying to eat healthy food - meaning real, unprocessed food, actual fiber, and a minimum of artificial ingredients or preservatives proved difficult at best. This is hard on a road trip, to say the least. And, my Norwegian girlfriend is 4 months along in her pregnancy, and has begun to watch everything she eats much more closely now than before. (I remember a time in Singapore when we ate semi-cooked fish and Indian food on plates made of banana leaves, with our hands, but that's another story.)

The most significant example is our stop in Colorado at a Subway sandwich shop. They each ordered according to desired ingredients, which they enjoyed – except they didn’t know and weren’t asked about the size sub they wanted, so were given 12” subs as default. Each also ordered a Medium-sized soft drink. This is where you are handed an empty cup and pointed to the self-serve soda and ice machine. The Medium-sized cups were HUGE. Bigger than anything other than an iced tea pitcher that I have at home. I’m not sure of size in ounces, but even I was surprised. In fact, right now, I’m drinking an Arby’s Medium-sized soft drink, and it’s a 20-ounce cup. This was the size of the SMALL at Subway on our trip.

Even at a few very nice restaurants, veggies that came with a meal were often just scooped out of the birds’eye frozen baggie, nuked, and served a bit blanched and tasteless. Fortunately, the main servings at nicer restaurants had more of a grip on realistic portion sizes than what you find at most national chains (excluding fast-food and the ‘super sizing’ phenomenon therein). Even so, they could not always be counted on to accurately befit their menu descriptions. On more than one occasion, orders for something containing chicken breast were often delivered with fried chicken breast. On one stop at a grocery for car-worthy snacks, we found it difficult to find a simple granola bar type snack that didn’t have noteworthy amounts of added sugar or other additives. And, surprisingly, they were often quite low in fiber – none more than 10 grams, and none that we could find with a 100% DV of fiber.

So, it was with renewed focus on good, healthy eating that I returned from my trip with the Norwegians. I’m all the better for remembering that what looks healthy on the outside may still be scheisse wrapped in a well-design.

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