Regular readers of the Displaced Nation are treated every other week to a new episode in the life of fictional expat Libby Patrick, a 30-something British woman who has relocated with her spouse to a town outside Boston. Her diary, Libby’s Life, by Kate Allison, is replete with observations about life in New England vs. England. In the weeks when Libby isn’t published, we are featuring posts by writers who are sensitive to the subtle yet powerful differences between new and “olde” worlds. Today we hear from a new contributor, Claire Bolden, a Brit who lives in the Washington, D.C., area and blogs regularly on such matters. She is also a fitness expert, which, as you will see, explains a lot!
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We Brits call it the “Ten Pound Tour.” You’re here in the United States for three years; expect to gain ten pounds, that’s what they say.
I’m in the USA for three years; how is this possible? Well, let me tell you…pull up a chair and grab a cup of tea (hot is preferable—none of that iced nonsense) and a biscuit (that is a BISCUIT, not a cookie or any other sweet treat, which will be pumped full of sugar and additives).
Firstly, I’m British, so our culinary delights are much to be sniffed at. Especially boiled cabbage, I find. We’re partial to fish and chips, but it has to be soaked in vinegar and wrapped in yesterday’s news (not fake newspaper, like a fake British pub in the USA deigned to provide me with recently) and curries.
Yes, yes, I know curries are not traditional British fare, but they’ve become so ingrained in our eating out and eating in culture, that I think they are now a fully-fledged, ghee-butter-infused part of the British diet.
Just thinking of growing fat…
In the USA…hmm, what culinary delights was I to chance upon? Pulled pork. I’ll have some of that.
Corn dogs…sigh, this batter-wrapped-sausage-thing-on-a-stick filled me first with joy, then dread, then Zantac.
Less a feast on a stick; more a beast on a stick. A beast of untold gastronomic consequences.
But the real devil in disguise is hidden away, tucked and folded and processed beyond belief into many, many of the foods in the Land of the Free. High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS).
This is not, as I understand it, part of the UK diet. Then what on earth is it doing being fed to millions of Americans? And how did I chance upon it?
The American version of “sweetbread”
Here’s the tale:
“There is sugar in bread,” a friend told me whilst I was chomping on a sandwich.
“Surely not,” I replied.
“There bloody well is,” she confirmed with vigour (she’s British, hence the “bloody” and the “u” in “vigour”).
She’s right, don’t you know. I looked more closely at the contents…
In a normal UK loaf there is stuff and nonsense, of course there is. But no sugar.
By comparison, an American grocery store’s loaf of bread ingredients will wrack up a whole host on unpronounceable allsorts, with the dearly beloved HFCS topping out as Ingredient No. 3!
And the blighter is everywhere!
HFCS has reared its nasty, cavity-making, gut-increasing syrupy head since I’ve been in the USA, and I’m not liking it too much…
What is it? Basically, HFCS goes in processed foods and is said to rot your teeth. It causes many health and obesity issues in the USA.
And so, to the cupboard to see what’s what in the food I have obtained since being in the USA. Yes, it is true, this sweetener is in all sorts of stuff.
“Out, damn HFCS. Be gone!” I’ve gone all Lady Macbeth about it
So, I see now why an expat stint in the USA has been christened the “Ten Pound Tour”—Americans might like to think of it as the “Expat 10,” after their expression the “Freshman 10” (actually it’s now the Freshman 15 as most freshmen put on at least 15 pounds during their first year of college).
Food glorious food: don’t care what it looks like!
Add to this the food porn issue. When I first heard of “food porn,” I thought it might refer to food that:
a) is so big it would make your eyes water,
b) is difficult to swallow, and/or
c) is indecent to look at, let alone put in one’s mouth.
But as my first encounter with The Cheesecake Factory (this place tops the list for calorie content) proved—it is all about the size, and, to set the record straight, size does matter.
We all know American portions are large, but in this restaurant chain, they are HUGE. My Asian chicken salad was the size of my husband’s head AND his sideburns AND his fluffy hair after he’s been swimming. That is V V V large.
Everyone eats as much as they can stuff their faces with and then takes the rest home in take-out boxes, because there is enough left for three more meals and you could potentially invite the neighbors, if they’re not already drowning in their own quagmire of take-out food porn and HFCS-infused products themselves.
So, take the food porn home. Indulge in the privacy of your own home—go on, no one’s watching…
Our senses go reeling…
As already mentioned, we’re no angels in the UK with our food and eating habits. On the healthier side, I crave a roast dinner now and then…roast lamb with all the trimmings.
Food is so much an inherent part of our cultures. It helps define us, but as expats we have to sample and pig out on what’s available in the country in which we reside.
That’s only right, is it not?
If I were in China, I’d certainly want to take advantage of the cuisine on offer there. Now, I wonder if they call it “Ten Pound Tour” in Bejing…?
American food and the custom of eating out makes the previous fortnightly little treat in the UK of a Value Meal curry for two from Tesco’s seem a right measly affair.
But maybe one day, when I return to my homeland, I will savour stabbing that plastic cover of the curry before I microwave it and pouring the egg cup-sized portion of “meat” into a dish and spooning in some hard-as-nails rice and enjoy every mouthful.
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Thanks, Claire, for reminding us about the dangers of high fructose corn syrup, which is lurking inside so many American foods! Readers, do you have anything to add to Claire’s observations? Also, is 10 pounds really enough—isn’t it more like 20 these days?
Claire, 38, left the UK shores a year ago in August and is living with her husband and son near Washington, D.C. They will be there for three years and have a bucket list of things to do and see in the USA during that time. Though a Brit, Claire is a flip-flop-wearing, cowboy-hat-totin’ sun worshipper who has already sampled a lot of US cuisine, including corn dogs and crab, but she still enjoys a Rich Tea biscuit with a cuppa. She spends her time talking to Americans and confusing them with her British colloquialisms, as well as writing her blog ukdesperatehousewifeusa, which takes a light-hearted look at the cultural differences between the USA and the UK.
STAY TUNED for next week’s series of posts!
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Images (from left): Claire enjoying a corn dog; an all-American breakfast of pancakes and grits; a sinful dessert at The Cheesecake Factory.
Portrait of woman from MorgueFile; Lighthouse (R) from MorgueFile; Lighthouse (L) from MorgueFile