Something should be said about the food in America. In some ways it’s like the food anywhere: when you’re not cooking your own, you’re stuck with sandwiches, fast food and restaurants. But the art of producing the most food for the least input has been honed fine here. Too many diets, too many “treats”. Too much salt! The fine art of making food sound new and different when in fact it’s very much the same (ie. marketing) is very well developed. So many drive thrus, so many chains, so little true variety.

The major problem is that much food here is far removed from reality. There are a great many additives “to preserve flavor” or to make life convenient for producers or retailers. Many ways to remove some part of the food while trying (and failing) to preserve the original taste. Of course the whole western world does this, but nobody else chases the impossible dream of the taste without the sugar/calories/fat/refrigeration requirements with the zeal shown here. You couldn’t fill warehouses with food if you couldn’t stack the products as long as you needed to.

Coffee creamer? What? It’s ubiquitous, accepted. Partially hydrogenated palm oil? Why? Bread? What bread? There’s no such thing as proper bread from a supermarket here, it’s all terrible, sweet, plastic airy crap. And bakeries here are mostly delis, so you have to really search to find someone who actually knows what a loaf of bread should look, feel or taste like. Of course, Atkins and its sugar/carb counting will probably kill them off now as well. Weirdly, there’s not much actual “sugar” in food here. There’s a lot of corn produced, so “high fructose corn syrup” is the major sugar source. (An enormous percentage of American calories now come from corn syrup.)

Perhaps the worst example of food abuse is in dairy products – for starters, it’s nearly impossible to find whole milk yoghurt. Semi skimmed milk is common, as is fat-free milk (like water with chalk). Full cream milk wouldn’t sell called that, so it’s called Vitamin D milk and has added Vitamin D. (Similarly, all orange juice sold anywhere has added Vitamin C to keep up the fiction that oranges are especially high in the stuff.) But for coffee, some people do prefer fresh milk. Actually, they’d prefer richer than that, but cream would be a bit too indulgent, so you can buy “half and half” which is half milk, half cream. Never the real food, just processed to either extreme.

Cheese is pretty funny too. Yellow is the colour cheese is expected to be, so yellow it is. If you want it in slices, you can purchase “Imitation Process Cheese Food” or Cheez Wizz, which is squeezable. Even worse, you can buy spray-on cheese, and that’s really wrong. Heard of Twinkies? Small sponge cakes with cream inside, except: it’s the worst, stalest sponge ever, the worst imitation cream, with a distinct aftertaste of old grease. Once, I worked on advertising for a product that coated the insides of pipes to protect them. Their slogan was “so safe, it’s in stuff you eat”. Twinkies was one of the products featured as containing this miracle pipe coating.

Hamburgers are the easiest meal to find, but all chains taste the same, are terrible for you, and leave you feeling like you’ve eaten something that should never have been made. Subway’s better, as is Blimpie (a similar chain) but they’re not terribly variable. Most “ethnic” foods are pretty pale imitations, though you can get lucky. Wraps and salads are the burgers of the new low-carb world, but as people still want all manner of dressings without the carbohydrate content, they’re covered in artificial imitation crap. It’s like people don’t want to eat anything at all. Read the Daily Value percentages on the side of a packet of anything, choose the one with the smallest numbers. Then buy three.

Health food stores are like little oases where you can buy nuts in bulk, or traditional grain cereals that make you fart. And a million different kinds of vitamins. It is a costly privilege to eat real food in the land where if it can legally be produced cheaper, it already has been. People would like to eat real food, but fast food’s cheaper and available now. With cheese. With salt. With 33% more. Here’s an interesting diet idea: no food with more than five ingredients. Fine cuisine may demand many ingredients, but butter shouldn’t. And don’t get me started on the sugary water, I’ll just become a grumpy old man.