Wednesday, February 4, 2009

On Being the Fat American

I’ve got a plate of cheese and crackers in front of me. Today, in addition to breakfast and lunch, I have had an apple cut into slices with peanut butter, some hot cocoa and “Butter Cheese Sticks—Snacky Cracky Time” (I kid you not that’s what they are called. It’s on the box in English), and I’ll probably have a yogurt between dinner and bed. I am a grazer. Everybody knows this, just as they know that if I don’t graze and get too hungry, I start shaking, lose all color in my face, and turn into one of the bitchiest people on the planet. The slightest irritation can send me into a rage…immediately followed by a mumbled, “I’m sorry, I’m just really hungry.”

At home, friends and family have gotten used to my constant munching, and school professors were generally willing to let me snack in class. Two hours is a long time to go without food of any kind! I have been told that this is actually a healthier way of eating, although I think it’s probably healthiest to eat when your body tells you you’re hungry and stop eating when you’re full (except for that one guy on CSI that one time where he didn’t have the signal that told him he wasn’t hungry so he just thought he was always hungry and so he was starving all the time and they had to chain him down and lock the refrigerator but one time he got out and ate himself to death because he didn’t know when to stop eating).

Despite my grazing, I consider myself a healthy eater—when I am snacking, I am snacking (generally) on food that is good for me. I don’t overeat (except on Thanksgiving, Christmas, Superbowl Sunday, and any potluck I go to) and I try to stick (without being overly conscious of it) to daily allotments and the luck. But every time I turn on the television or walk near a billboard advertising food, I am smacked in the face with a reminder that I am unhealthy and overweight because of my eating habits.

The French health administration, or whatever their equivalent is, requires that every commercial or advertisement for food includes a PSA at the end, using one of several pre-determined messages pertaining to food and health. It’s similar to the way packs of cigarettes back home must say “Cigarette Smoke Contains Carbon Monoxide” or “Quitting Smoking Now Greatly Reduces Serious Risks to Your Health” (in France, 30% of the packaging is taken up by the large words FUMER TUE—smoking kills, and another 40% on the opposite side is taken up by smaller, more detailed warnings. And yet I still have yet to have gone an hour without seeing at least three smokers in my line of vision). The PSAs concerning food say things like, “Avoid eating too salty, too sweet, and too fatty”, or the version that is used during kids’ programming: “To grow up big, avoid eating too salty, too sweet, too fatty.” Fine, ok, I’ll avoid it. Another incites people to, “Mangez, Bougez!” which translates to, “Eat, Move!” meaning get off your butt and exercise. I am all for working out so that I feel ok about that extra bowl of ice cream. The one that really bothers me, the one that really pisses me off, is the one that says, “For your health, avoid snacking between meals.” Fuck you, France, I do what I want.

Coming to health-conscious (well, not when it comes to the lungs or the liver…) France, I expected…Well, I don’t know what I expected. I knew that I would get flak (or at least references) to America’s reputation as the fat capitol of the world. I didn’t expect my students to shout, “McDonald’s!” and “Hamburgers!” when they found out I was American. I didn’t expect to be talking about impressions of Americans with my students, and (while I, an American, was standing right in front of them) tell me that Americans are fat. Really guys? I’m right here. Is that necessary? What I also didn’t expect was France’s overwhelming obsession with thinness to extend to billboards advertising pizza and commercials for milk.

It’s really awkward being constantly punched in the face by such overt anti-obesity messages, especially as an American. When in the company of French people, I find myself trying to eat slower, and eat less. The teachers in the cafeteria at school always leave a portion of their meal on their plate. I’ve tried, but I’m hungry. I can’t help it! When I do clean my plate around the Frenchies, and clean it quickly, too, I thank God that I am in pretty damn good shape, and am at least breaking one American stereotype, since I can’t break them all.


Chelsea said...

Pffft...I would show those Frenchies FAT. I'd eat ALL their cheese. ALL of it!

Heather said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Heather said...

Ooh, I second that opinion (I looove cheese)...
I'd say they'd shit a brick if they could see us at an all-you-can-eat Canadian Sushi night... but you know they'd totally do it too!! (Who can resist just one more little "healthy" sushi piece? Or another... and another, and Another!)
But really, I think it's like 60% of Americans are considered "overweight" while only lik4 40% of French are. But, 30.5 % of Americans grow into the "obese" qualification while only 11.3 % of French have.
So in general, yeah, Americans Are fatter and with a Much larger population it seems like there are tons more of them. Stereotypes just stick. Everyone in South America thought I loved Bush cuz we had voted for him, and that was only 50% of the population over the 60% fat statistic!

Ardith said...

Man, I graze, too. We graze together, in different countries, separated only by the ocean and several crappy cities.

That doesn't really make sense, but then again, when do I make sense?