How What We Eat Has Changed

Yves here. The real headline should be “How How Much We Eat Has Changed.”

American portion sizes are too large. I don’t eat out much, but it’s not hard to notice that even at upscale restaurants (as in their clientele sees being Not Fat as a status marker), if your order an appetizer and a main course, unless you are a large man, it’s too much food (and that’s before you get how free most of them are with using fats to make the food taste better). And since many social occasions (celebrations, dating, business meetings) are supposed to be more about having a good time with your fellow diners than the food, eating more courses prolongs the event (as in is better for the dynamics). Ordering only one course or two appetizers comes off as neurotic, stingy, and/or implied criticism of the less calorically inhibited diners. Plus the restaurant’s economics pre-suppose most people eating at least two courses, so if you don’t eat up, if you are like me, you feel like you’ve underpaid the restaurant for the use of their table and staff (assuming the restaurant is full).

I assume this portion-sizing has been replicated in prepared food; I see when I’m invited out to dine at people’s homes that they’ve internalized “big food” norms.

Thus why Americans are fatter and getting more related diseases isn’t primarily about endocrine disruption or more people having metabolic disorders. It’s that on average people are eating 23% more than they used to. Even though calories are not a perfect measure, they are not a bad first order approximation. And then we add to that that more people are in sedentary jobs than was the case 40 years ago, and it’s no wonder the public has more weight related ailments.

By Mike Kimel. Originally published at Angry Bear

From Pew:



Americans eat more chicken and less beef than they used to. They drink less milk – especially whole milk – and eat less ice cream, but they consume way more cheese. Their diets include less sugar than in prior decades but a lot more corn-derived sweeteners. And while the average American eats the equivalent of 1.2 gallons of yogurt a year, he or she also consumes 36 pounds of cooking oils – more than three times as much as in the early 1970s.

Americans’ eating habits, in short, are all over the place, at least according to our analysis of U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) data.

The post goes on:

Broadly speaking, we eat a lot more than we used to: The average American consumed 2,481 calories a day in 2010, about 23% more than in 1970. That’s more than most adults need to maintain their current weight, according to the Mayo Clinic’s calorie calculator. (A 40-year-old man of average height and weight who’s moderately active, for instance, needs 2,400 calories; a 40-year-old woman with corresponding characteristics needs 1,850 calories.)

Nearly half of those calories come from just two food groups: flours and grains (581 calories, or 23.4%) and fats and oils (575, or 23.2%), up from a combined 37.3% in 1970. Meats, dairy and sweeteners provide smaller shares of our daily caloric intake than they did four decades ago; then again, so do fruits and vegetables (7.9% in 2010 versus 9.2% in 1970).

I guess its not just me. Or you.

On the other hand, I don’t like chicken, so this is more you than me:

Several interesting shifts are happening within food groups. For the past decade, for instance, chicken has topped beef as the most-consumed meat. In 2014, Americans ate an average of 47.9 pounds of chicken a year (2.1 ounces a day), versus 39.4 pounds (1.7 ounces a day) of beef. While average chicken consumption has more than doubled since 1970, beef has fallen by more than a third.

How healthy any of this is another story. (Warning: link to Youtube.)

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  1. Wade Riddick

    You’re missing the bigger picture.

    These changes in food are designed to get us to overeat – the same way our pain management policy is designed to produce addicts and dependency, not actual cost-effective pain relief. Removing fiber from the food supply (esp. refined grains) releases sugar more quickly, which causes a reward reinforcing dopamine spike and then a blood sugar crash leading to more hunger. Stick the sugar in a liquid delivery mechanism (soda), even better.

    MSG is added to stimulate the appetite too. It’s not a “flavor enhancer.” It’s a profit enhancer.

    It’s unfortunate all this sugar also causes diabetes, obesity, cancer, Alzheimer’s, heart disease, autism and thus puts the life of the customer at risk – but that’s years down the road, like the problems smoking posed to the tobacco industry’s consumer base.

    The same way Wells Fargo’s recent frauds were driven by an out-of-control sales culture, food has been dominated not by the best interests of the customer but by corporate bonuses determined by sales figures – even if those figures are a result of control accounting fraud. (Why even bother with the formal pretext of the numbers if your institution is that corrupt?)

    It’s the same machine that’s been driving liar’s loans.

    Disease is also related to what’s in the GI tract – or, rather, what’s not. We’ve carpet-bombed our GI flora with broad-spectrum antibiotics for close to three generations now, producing an even narrower gut ecology – and that was on top of the prior deworming, which itself was never proven safe. Then add all the time sitting and indoors out of the sun…

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I see your argument as overstated. I see oversized portions in health restaurants too and among people who eat organic foods and follow the new food fad of avoiding refined foods and severely limiting grains (which while it has merit is nevertheless a fad). I’ve had people I know balloon on the new supposedly healthier regime because they thought it gave them license to eat more.

      1. Quanka

        Disagree, Yves. The problem is that no one is actually looking into some of the things Wade described (from a controlled, scientific standpoint). For example, the concept of gut microbiology has come into being and literally evolved out of thin air in the last 50 years. We could build nuclear weapons capable of destroying the world before we understood the complex microorganisms performing key, essential functions within our GI tract.

        The bottom line is that we don’t know what we don’t know.

        So on the one hand i take your point that fad eating can cause significant problems. Also, sugars are a hugely more important culprit than fat or grains (as the sugar industry themselves discovered in the 60s and 70s), especially as a gate-way to larger health problems (diabetes, obesity, cancer, Alzheimer’s, heart disease).

        However, the biggest problem is that most of the “food” sold in grocery stores, convenience stores, fast food joints etc has no actual relationship to “food as fuel” for the human body. I started working part time at a bakery and quickly learned the difference between our bread and the stuff you buy in a store. Why can a loaf of bread (supposedly made of grains/salt/water … all organic materials BTW) stay shelf stable for 2 months, and what does that mean when that crap gets into your body? Now ask that same question across a population of 300mm.

        And its not like you can eat Organic and be safe. Turns out most rolled oats in the United States are sprayed with glysophate as a preserving agent. Good stuff!

        1. Outis Philalithopoulos

          With whom exactly are you disagreeing here, and about what? It seems like you’re mainly bringing up additional ideas about unhealthy food.

        2. Dave

          “And its not like you can eat Organic and be safe. Turns out most rolled oats in the United States are sprayed with glysophate as a preserving agent. Good stuff!”

          That’s wrong; either simply wrong, or deliberate chemical industry misinformation.
          Since you misspelled glyphosate I’ll go with the former.

          Nothing can be certified as organic if it has been sprayed with glyphosate.

        3. Edward

          I read a list a few years ago where I learned that wood chips were a “natural ingredient” in some grain products. Orange juice is preserved in vats for one year by removing the oxygen. This changes the juice so it loses its flavor. Not to worry, though– the FDA allows “flavor packets” to be added to the juice which give it a taste resembling orange juice. We can probably thank government deregulation/the revolving door for this state of affairs.

          I also read on a different blog that American food makes foreigners sick. A Russian person was informed by a doctor that adverse reactions to the chemicals in American food is misdiagnosed as an allergy.

          1. Edward

            Diabetes in Haiti increased after Haitians were forced by the Clinton administration to replace domestically produced rice in their diet with rice imported from Arkansas.

          2. vegeholic

            Look at the ingredients on your favorite box of domestic parmesan cheese. One of the prominent ones is added cellulose (basically sawdust). The FDA permits up to 20% (I think) of this product to be cellulose. It is supposed to improve the shelf life. Buon Appetito!

        4. different clue

          The glyphosate is not sprayed on certain crops as a pre-harvest preservative. It is sprayed as a pre-harvest “dessicant” ( a chemical which will quick-kill and forcibly quick-ripen all the spray-targetted plants over the same 5-7 day timespan for ease of 1-pass-gets-all harvesting).
          And indeed, glyphosate cannot be used in a Certified Organic program and hope to retain the Organic Certification.

          So conventional oats, rolled or otherwise, has one of the highest levels of glyphosate residue of any food item. So if you believe glyphosate residues are harmless and you wish to support Team Monsanto to balance all the negative feelings Monsanto has been receiving lately; conventional oats ( rolled or otherwise) is one of the foods you should eat as much of as you feasibly can.

      2. JeffC

        Your notion that large portions imply the problem cannot be endocrine disruption is not correct. No doubt large portions flow in part from the profit motive, but restaurants and home kitchens respond to their eaters, and if endocrine disruption is causing overhungry eaters, larger portions will result.

        Look how many six footers, not necessarily fat either, there are among US high-school girls (in addition to boys) now, girls whose early nutrition and whose pregnant mothers’ nutrition, came largely out of plastic containers. Makes a person wonder.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          Wowsers. This is absolutely false. There has been ample discussion in the restaurant literature as to why portion sizes have gotten bigger. It’s driven by their profit goals. The actual food raw materials is their cheapest input. Larger portion sizes allow restaurants to charge more for meals and increase their bottom lines.

          In addition. you apparently haven’t heard about the impact of perceived norms on how people eat, such at the “freshman 10”. Women going to college routinely put on 10 lbs because they are eating with young men (who often eat a lot) in an environment where there aren’t normal restrictions on portion sizes (they determine them and men and women can and do go back for seconds). In other words, being around people who serve themselves large portions leads to imitative behavior.

          And in terms of making stuff up, Americans are not getting taller. Height is seen by public health experts as a sign of general health of the population, and most important, pre-natal and early childhood nutrition. Americans no longer have the largest average height. In fact, American height is actually falling:

      3. Elizabeth Burton

        I’m with Yves. Ignoring the fact that dining out means having to order twice as much as any normal human needs for a single meal never seems to make it into the conversation when the great “we’re all too fat and we’re gonna die” dance steps onto the floor.

        Nobody needs to eat a half-pound of ground beef, but that’s what the normal size of a burger is anywhere you go. A few offer a slightly smaller third-pounder, but then there’s the huge bun and a half-pound of fries and maybe a half-cup of something vaguely vegetable. And of course, none of it tastes fit to eat if taken home and reheated, which is why my dining-out choice tends to be club sandwiches.

        Back forty years ago or so, one of the most recommended ways of losing weight without a lot of effort was to stop using dinner plates. Instead, use the 9-inch sandwich plate, fill it, empty it and move on. And it worked. Because most of the people my age were raised hearing “clean up your plate,” and in more than a few that trained them to be unable to do otherwise, with predictable results when they were no longer burning the calories a child did.

      4. Wade Riddick

        You’re ignoring the fact that appetite is a variable, not a constant. For instance, if you eat olive oil before a meal, you’ll feel full sooner and eat less. Calorie density is also important. Water-rich, high-fiber foods fill you up faster. They also positively affect appetite hormones (GLP-1). Your computer has been reprogrammed into a corporate profit machine. It’s just a byproduct/coincidence that this means you overeat.

        Antibiotics are another factor. The friendly flora in your gut regulate inflammation and insulin sensitivity. Cattle are fed antibiotics to induce insulin resistance, which makes them grow faster (and fatter). They do the same thing to the rest of us. First a country gets tall, then fat and diabetic.

        1. Quanka

          I read the article and Yves comment as implying that increases in consumption of sugars and certain cooking oils are driving the “problem,” with the problem being obesity and other derivative health issues that flow from obesity. I only disagree in that I think this view is a little too simplistic and that we lack enough information to identify the true sources of the problem.

          Pick up food in a grocery store, and read the label. There are so many things — MSG is one such example – that never appear on the nutrition label nor the ingredients list.

          I believe Wade correctly identifies the source of the problem as being less sugars/oils and portion sizes, and more systemic with the corporate infiltration of our food supply. This was where my “we don’t know what we don’t know” comment came from. Its easy to measure increases in portion sizes, increased use of sugars and cooking oils, etc. The article implies cause and effect and this very well may prove true.

          But there are probably other things that are also driving the issues. The additives, preservatives and other ingredients that never appear on a food label … are these also possible causes? It reminds me of fracking how the companies won’t even tell you what is in the frack waste water. Ask Kraft Corp, or McDonalds what is in their food and you will get the same reaction. So we know that too much sugars or certain types of fats are especially problematic, but we likely don’t know the worst of the ingredients in our food. And why is that? B/c corporations don’t have to tell us, and they control what congress and the FDA determine what they have to tell us. Nice little game you have there, fellas.

        2. different clue

          Thank you for this comment. I had never before read that feeding antibiotics to confinement-cattle gives them fat-gain-o-genic insulin resistance. I had read it makes them “grow faster” but had never been offered an explanation of the specific mechanism.

  2. ambrit

    I’m lucky in that Phyllis is a Health Food Nut. (She wryly concedes the point, adding the caveat that the “Label” is imposed from without.) Be that as it may, I’m a child of the sixties and seventies consumer culture. I’ve noticed that even the portions of things as ‘lowly’ as Ramen Noodles are larger in packages aimed at the American market than packages aimed at foreign markets. I’ll admit a fondness for ramen, especially Udon, but when I read the ingredients I cringe. Processed everything predominates. The basic rule is that the list of ingredients rank by percentage of substance as a part of the whole. So many times, I’ll see corn sweeteners, or other refined sugars taking pride of place in the ingredients list. I do try to eliminate MSG because it induces in me horrible headaches.
    Another possible ‘driver’ for overeating is the tendency of poorer people to “clean your plate.” I don’t remember Mom ever deploying the “starving children in Magonia” trope, but she did emphasize the potential scarcity of food. She once or twice explained this as a hold over from rationing and shortages of food in England during and after WW2. She distinctly remembers the wonder of being given oranges. Children were so targeted to provide vitamin c and forestall childhood deficiency diseases. Everyone she knew had a backyard vegetable garden. What is perhaps germane to this is the tendency of “modern” culture to denigrate food growing of any sort. Home gardeners, instead of being portrayed as rational, are often presented as abnormal and “fringe.” Such practitioners become tagged with the “oddball meme.” Thus, we come back to Phyls comment about “Labels.” As mentioned above, who controls the labelling controls the social perceptions. When “money” is in control, the social “good” is basically ignored.
    I’ll finish with the observation that breaking free of “social norms” is no cake walk. Food is yet another example of such.
    Here’s to deviancy! It tastes great!

    1. Katharine

      Are you serious?

      >Home gardeners, instead of being portrayed as rational, are often presented as abnormal and “fringe.”

      You must be hanging out with the wrong kind of people. Even I have a few perennial herbs and berries and a little asparagus, though there’s too much shade for effective vegetable gardening. Many of my relatives still grow and freeze or can the majority of their produce.

      I know there is evidence elsewhere that Americans are more overweight than formerly, but I still wish this study had looked at consumption relative to height. Simply comparing calories without considering size is a poor measure.

    2. Martin Finnucane

      Home gardeners, instead of being portrayed as rational, are often presented as abnormal and “fringe.” Such practitioners become tagged with the “oddball meme.”

      They’re worse than “oddballs” – they’re uncool. Uncoolness is like sin but for dorks, in the snakepit that is American culture. That culture is the residuum of human interconnections left over after consumer capitalism has sheared away everything organic, self-organized, and outside of market relations.

      My daughter (7 yr old) is enthusiastic about our little front yard vegetable plot. She shared this enthusiasm with a classmate, the first of many self-appointed enforcers, who told her that that was “gross.” 2nd grade. Who taught her that? And how? What is the mechanism?

      1. Waldenpond

        I have a spot out back and out front. Most questions are around the amount of work (gasp) it must take. Well, less than a lawn. Watering, fighting weeds, fertilizing, edging, mowing…. the four 4×8 beds with a center circle (a perimeter of perennials etc) is less hours. But I do get the people that ew over a bug and ick might have to touch dirt. When we have young visitors, I make an effort to point out the apple, pear, plum, blueberries and get them to pick (just blow on it) a strawberry or some herbs. Tell them about making lavender short bread cookies or thyme honey.

    3. Optimader

      Clean your plate, mabe just not in one sitting. I regularly will split a entree when i irregularly dine out , or take home part for yhe Jackel.. whats the big deal? Why bash resurants to serve less , invariably for the same price. No one holds a gun to your head to keep putti g the tork in your mouth. (I for on often think food taste better as a left over)

  3. clarky90

    When I was a child, (1950s) we were only allowed to eat three meals a day. “Don’t eat that, you will spoil your appetite”.

    Now, people eat constantly. When I was in high-school, there was one “fat” boy in my class of 35. (Gale, the Whale). By today’s standards, Gale was just slightly obese.

    The following link is genius. It is Dr Jason Fung talking about why fasting does not lead to muscle wasting.

    As the rapacious pharmaceutical companies take over world “health care” (ha ha ha), it is a good idea to find inexpensive alternatives. Fortunately, Our Mother of Nature has provided a cure-all, fasting. And it costs less than free (you save money).

  4. PlutoniumKun

    As a European visiting the US frequently its always been very noticeable to me just how vast portion sizes are in the US in comparison to what you’d get in much of Europe (not all, the Germans in particular love their big dishes, British and Irish too). I’ve read one theory that much of it is based on immigrants to the US often having come from quite poor and calorie starved backgrounds who get quite overwhelmed with the cheapness of American food and so a ‘culture’ of enjoying the excess would become the norm – Italian cuisine, for example, flipped from ‘pasta with tiny shreds of meat for flavour’ in Italy to ‘meatballs with a bit of pasta’ in the US.

    I remember once sitting on the subway from Flushing (with its big Asian population) to Manhattan with a Chinese born friend and she was casually identifying the other Chinese in the carriage as recent immigrants, longer term immigrants, or first/second generation Americans simply from their body shapes. Of course, changes in nutrients from eating different types of food could be just as responsible. Certainly in many parts of Asia there is an upcoming epidemic of diabetes due to a huge increase in simple carbs in the general populations diet.

    But ultimately, it seems the industrialising of the food industry means they focus on generating demand for whatever products they can produce most cheaply and in greatest quantity. They are, in short ‘creating’ demand for quantities and types of food. Its up to consumers to try to resist those demands.

    1. Synoia

      Climate, especially the NE US climate, drives large portions. One needs large amounts of food in the NE winters to survive.

      1. Cry Shop

        Really? There is no heating in Chinese homes below the Yangze, but until very recently they worked harder than most Americans on fewer calories. The winter climate in these areas often gets below freezing.

        P.K. has a very good notice, I’ll add that many young Chinese have quality of diets which in terms of meat and protein are similar to US diets, but they don’t pick up that American look. While China has huge issues with food safety, the government has outlawed many of the hormones that are used in the USA to boost milk production in cattle, speed meat growth on chicken, turkey, beef, and even farm fish in the USA.

        1. PlutoniumKun

          I wouldn’t be so sure that Chinese food is so free of additives, but there certainly are a few dubious hormones which are widespread in US food which are banned in most of the world. Years back I was doing some study into endocrines in food as part of a research product and what I found most worrying is that the most significant impacts may be a generation on, not on adults exposed. There is very little real research on this, its a very worrying thing.

          Its one possible explanation for a thing which has always puzzled me. From the short times I’ve stayed in the Netherlands, the Dutch seem to have a pretty terrible diet. Lots of prepackaged and pre-prepared food, plenty of junk food, with even the ‘healthy’ dishes consisting of hydroponically grown veg (I once saw a French woman literally groan in horror at the lack of taste of some Dutch tomatoes she bought), etc. On an anecdotal level, I don’t see their diet as being any better than the British or Americans (arguably even worse). Yet they are famously the tallest people in the world, with excellent health stats and low obesity levels. Part may be physical activity, but I do wonder if hormones and additives are part of the issue.

          1. Cry Shop

            Dutch eat a lot of health seafood, in particular fermented / pickled sardines, anchovies, mackerel, all wild fish either direct photoplankton eaters or one step up (and not the farm grown Salmon, catfish, etc, or top level, heavy metal laden top chain swordfish, Mahi-mahi, etc) which make up for a lot of sins. Like the Scots, they are big on porridge too. However, yeah, their diet is starting to go off the rails, so the Dutch government is trying hard to reverse bad habits before they bite the national budget. Don’t overlook that fermenting, creates types of vitamin K that man has not yet synthesized successfully in the lab, which does a lot to control cholesterol deposition.

            While China has huge issues with food safety, the government has outlawed many of the hormones that are used in the USA to boost milk production in cattle, speed meat growth on chicken, turkey, beef, and even farm fish in the USA.

            China has other unique problems, such as lead and other heavy metals poisoning, rapid increases in most cancers (in part do to these heavy metals) usually absorbed from vegetables grown in contaminated soil, or from contaminated water (like Detroit, which Obama still has not solved). Phtalate plasticizers( which do wind up in Chicken feed) and other items that a quite liberally sprinkled into the American diet are band in China (and most of the world). Banning Frying on Teflon is another item where China is a head of the USA, but where China goes off the rail is in enforcement. As to traditional foodstuffs, China was probably the first nation to think of food and medicine as being the same. Will the youth keep experiential knowledge alive without the cultural systems is a interesting question.

          2. Mucho

            As a Dutchie, I can confirm your remark about the tasteless vegetables. Conversely, whenever I am abroad, I find the vegetables delicious (most of the time). This also holds for meat, especially chicken.

            Regarding the explanation for low Dutch obesity levels: maybe the low inequality compared to the US/UK provides some explanation (though class is also largely intertwined with obesity here)?

            Or maybe it’s just because of all the bikes!

            1. polecat

              There is the post colonial introduction of Javanese cooking, within, at least, some portion of Dutch society as a result of immigration, to consider …. no? ….. That would seem to have had a beneficial influence on the dutch diet ….

              1. Foppe

                Not really. Especially these days, indonesian cooking involves frying everything in copious amounts of sunflower oil. Can’t really think of any veggies that were introduced via that route besides chillies and plantains, but they’re hardly used by ‘ethnic dutch’. Soy sauce, chilli paste (sambal).
                Think the obesity differences are mostly due to the fact that home cooking with fresh veggies/potatoes is/was more normal here than in the US.

        2. JohnM

          It’s a common misconception but hormones are not used in chicken meat production. The exceptional growth rates in commercial poultry are largely the result of breed ‘improvements’.

          We grow about 25 meat birds each year for home consumption. The Cornish Cross, the typical commercial meat bread, is available to home producers but must be grown on a feed-restricted diet to reduce the likelihood of heart attacks and leg problems. Of course this lifetime feed restriction results in a leaner (and less flavorful) chicken so we prefer other breeds that are specifically marketed as ‘slo-gro’ chickens. These slow grow birds are not only tastier but arguably more nutritious.

          1. Carla

            Maybe people think hormones are commonly used in chicken meat production because so many of the mass producers who charge somewhat higher prices put “Hormone-free!” on their packages.

            It’s my understanding that antibiotics are not only used, but over-used in growing chickens (and other livestock, including beef) for commercial markets. To your knowledge, is that correct?

          2. MtnLife

            The misconception is that people think it is hormones when it is really antibiotics. This goes for people as well. Of course you need antibiotics for livestock if you are factory farming because animals aren’t supposed to be that close together. However, the overuse of antibiotics all around is due solely to their ability to put weight on the animals.

      2. Katharine

        Having grown up with the recurring dialogue, “I’m cold.” “Put on a sweater,” I can’t buy that. To survive you add more layers. I admit to a tendency to eat more and add a few pounds in winter, and I imagine there might be some evolutionary history behind that; but dressing appropriately and staying active are far more useful to survival, and at least for me staying active is easier without too many extra pounds.

        1. Stephanie

          Layers have their limits if you work manual labor. My youngest step-son works construction in the upper Midwest 11 months a year (the month off is for those truly unworkable 20-below days or days with 8″+ of snow) and is rail thin. So constant activity will keep the weight off, in young men at least, but I would hate to think how he would look if he didn’t eat the enormous portions he does, especially in winter. I will admit I enable him in this; when he visits I feel like a mother bird shoving food down his gullet.

          I think historically, when more people were working farms and other outdoor jobs in winter, “seconds” and “thirds” would have been necessary to keep the weight on, at least for young men. Probably not so necessary the older they get, but food habits die very hard deaths in my experience.

    2. Cry Shop

      Its up to consumers to try to resist those demands.

      How? They are as captured by the food market as they are captured by the labour market. Specialization renders every human dignity a dispensable barrier to a total “efficient” market. First the poor, then on up the ladder it will go.

      1. PlutoniumKun

        I’m not really sure what alternative there is than consumer pressure. Governments are so wrapped up with Big Ag policy they are in a limited position to change things, except at the margin (there are exceptions to this, but that’s a big issue in its own right*). I know there are all sorts of sociological and psychological reasons why we are so easily led by industry to eat all sorts of foods which are terrible for us. But the information is out there easily available to people to improve their diets and lifestyles.

        * a big one of course is how trade deals like NAFTA and TPP are imposing terrible US diets on poorer countries – Mexico an obvious example.

        1. Cry Shop

          For the wealthy it’s easy, for the not so wealthy, a challenge, and for the urban poor, on their own it’s plain impossible.

          1. Katharine

            Often, not quite invariably. There are farmers markets that take food stamps. Granted that without the supplement the prices would be prohibitive, with it they are within reach for some people who otherwise would not have access to that quality. I admit “not quite invariably” is not nearly good enough, but it’s a sign we have a starting point from which to push for something better.

            1. Cry Shop

              I guess you caught me, I was thinking poor as per a bell curve, when 50% of US workers have to get by on less than $30,000 per year, some significantly less. Veggies, even with foodstamps, are not something most can afford, and even fewer the trips out to the farmers market to buy them, as they are usually working 2 jobs a 6-7 days a week. They’ll still be doing that even if minimum wage gets to $15 per hour, because broken, corrupt local governments will find a way to steal any gains they make.

              Fast food is doing gangbusters business in the USA because the family wage earners don’t have time to shop or cook, much less teach their children things they themselves barely understand about nutrition, how to get out of the poverty cycle, birth control (a great start to life, growing in the womb of a malnourished mother), etc.

              Livelihood is something no one in the USA seems to understand, it isn’t about income.

              1. Cry Shop

                to keep above comment out of being held, here’s the link on income, and I’ll add this

                “Carloads of oranges dumped on the ground. The people come for miles to take the fruit, but this could not be. How would they buy oranges if they could drive out and pick them up? And men with hoses squirt kerosene on the oranges… A million people hungry, needing the fSruit – and kerosene sprayed over the golden mountains. And the smell of rot fills the country.
                Burn coffee for fuel in the ships… Dump potatoes in the rivers and place guards along the banks to keep the hungry people from fishing them out [with nets]. Slaughter the pigs and bury them… And children dying of pellagra must die because a profit cannot be taken from an orange. And coroners must fill in the certificates – died of malnutrition – because the food must be forced to rot.”

                Livelihood – Only a few Americans really understood that term. Many youth curse and mutter under their breath at being assigned to read and report on a novel by an American man who most certainly did understand the correct definition.

              2. Katharine

                Our farmers markets are in the city, sometimes within easy walking distance of poor neighborhoods. We need more of them, but we do have a start.

                Regarding time to cook: there are things that don’t take a lot of time, and some of them don’t require watching once started, so you can be showering or paying bills or something else you would have to do anyway. It’s inevitably a matter of your own circumstances how much you can or will cook, but for some people their own food beats anything they could have gotten from a fast-food outlet, and there’s a kind of psychological lift from the sense of having treated themselves well.

                1. Elizabeth Burton

                  Frankly, I’m getting very tired of people who should know better repeating the nonsense that poor people are wasting money on fast food. Having been one of that class, I can assure you a trip to McD’s was a rare treat, and I’m willing to wager I was not the exception.

                  The problem isn’t fast food. It’s that when you have a minimum amount of money to spend on food, with or without SNAP, you have no choice but to cook things that can be stretched to ensure everyone gets enough. The cheapest way to do that is by adding a little meat and maybe some sauce to pasta or potatoes or some other filling “extender.” That’s why mac-and-cheese are a poor-family staple. It’s cheap to make and the kids will eat it.

                  And you can make a decent meal for four with a box of Kraft Mac and Cheese, a handful of ground beef, and some peas. Likewise with a jar of spaghetti sauce and lots of pasta.

                  The problem when people who’ve never been in that situation try to “help” poor people is the same as in every other situation where the “helper” hasn’t a clue about the reality of the other person’s existence. I still remember the TV spot by some “good nutrition” activist group that had one of their cute kids telling people not to use frozen food because it wasn’t as nutritious as fresh.

                  Good lord have mercy.

                  1. Cry Shop


                    I’ll try to get back with that fast food reference, but yes, value meal turnover has gone up a lot in the USA, and it’s an even bigger item here and in some other Asian cities where some of the housing for the poorest working class don’t even come with a kitchen, or bath. I’ve seen quite a lot of that in LA on a recent visit, thanks to a social worker friend and all that.

                2. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

                  I would like to see a farmer’s market in every big government building and every school…yes, in the FDA building as well.

                  Workers can just get fresh vegetables (with government subsidy) every day, instead of buying packaged meals from vending machines.

              3. reslez

                Speaking as someone who has been poor, poor people can’t afford fast food. I interpret that as a comfortable middle class misconception. Fast food isn’t “doing gangbusters”, either. Fast food restaurants chase “value menu” items because a lot of their supposed clientele can’t afford more.

                People who don’t have access to full kitchens or cooking utensils or know how to cook are another issue. It’s easy to say “Let them cook their own meals” and walk away like that solves anything but our own untroubled consciences.

      2. Tertium Squid

        The Omnivore’s Dilemma was useful for revealing the goal of food marketing is to turn us into imbeciles who cannot prepare our own food and are reliant on heavily processed foods.

        1. jrs

          It’s a struggle to prepare one’s own food, a struggle in an economy that leaves no time, you have to accept it as a battle to make it a top priority to fight the battle yet another day.

          1. reslez

            I have a “normal” 40-hr week job (which is increasingly rare, actually). Between the 40 hours + the additional hours I’m expected to work + the 2 hour daily commute, by the time I get home I’m exhausted. I can’t imagine how people with 2+ jobs manage to cook. Were they taught in their “no child left behind” schools how to cook? Did their parents have time to teach them? Do they have a working stove/refrigerator in the room they’re subleasing from someone else? So many issues.

            1. Cry Shop

              You’ve got great empathy. Thank you on behalf of so many. I’m serious, it’s something I find seriously lacking. It’s there, but certainly not in enough volume, another poverty.

              A separate observation: Many poor Americans I’ve meet cling to an image of themselves as middle class. Oddly, I’ve found quite a number of relatively well off who think they are poor. I guess each models an image that helps with the self-deceptions necessary live with to the “choices’ forced on them for the poor, or taken by the well off. Then I read or speak to someone like you, and it gives hope.

    3. jrs

      Well when your talking about second generation and so on, sure portions are large but you may be getting into epigenetic factors at that point as well.

  5. Pavel

    Well as noted there is a lot going on here (e.g. MSG) but the basic point that US food portions are too big is absolutely correct. I remember vividly going to a steakhouse in NY a decade ago and was served a “steak and salad” that could have fed 3 people. And worse yet of course are the “all you can eat” restaurants. Contrast the enormous slabs of meat in the US with the portions served in Japan.

    I’m tempted to write a diet book — “How to lose weight and eat whatever you want” : just cut the portions in half. And avoid sugars.

    The prepared foods in the supermarkets are another real culprit, stuffed with extra fat, sugar, and salt and other chemicals. I have the luxury of shopping each week at a farmer’s market — fresh food from local producers and without added ingredients. I realise I am one of the very lucky ones.

    1. Ernie

      The phrase “just cut the portions in half” brings to mind some old family history. Recognizing my mother’s habit (as her own method of “dieting”) of deliberately eating only half of whatever she was served (and “saving the rest for later”), it was a longstanding family joke that if Mom were to be served only a single bean, she would cut it in half. Of course, instead of “saving the rest for later,” my father would often eat Mom’s other half-serving, which didn’t help his cause in his own life-long battle with a weight problem.

    2. clarky90

      One approach to “too large portion size” is to only eat one or two meals a day. That is what I generally do. This gives your body a break from from being constantly awash with high insulin levels.

      If I only eat lunch, then the size of the meal is not an issue. Or, if eating out with friends, if I have not eaten all day, then the size of the celebratory meal in the evening is less problematic.

      Our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate intermittently.

      Do you ever wonder what a healthy, “normal human being” might look like?

      Men from Bathurst Island, 1939

      1. Pavel

        I think this is a very good point. I’ve become interested in “intermittent fasting”. I now have a cup of green tea on rising and then coffee and fruit and cheese around 11AM or so and then dinner. For whatever reason I never “feel hungry”.

        For those who are interested there is also research indicating that sleep patterns and artificial lighting may affect body weight, and nightly melatonin may help those who don’t have “traditional” (pre-electric light, pre-nonstop screen usage) sleeping behaviour.

        Worldwide overweight and obesity rates are on the rise, with about 1 900 billion adults being defined as overweight and about 600 million adults being defined as obese by the World Health Organization (WHO). Increasing exposure to artificial light-at-night (ALAN) may influence body mass, by suppression of melatonin production and disruption of daily rhythms, resulting in physiological or behavioral changes in the human body, and may thus become a driving force behind worldwide overweight and obesity pandemic.
        We analyzed most recent satellite images of night time illumination, available from the US Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP), combining them with country-level data on female and male overweight and obesity prevalence rates, reported by the WHO. The study aims to identify and measure the strength of association between ALAN and country-wide overweight and obesity rates, controlling for per capita GDP, level of urbanization, birth rate, food consumption and regional differences.
        ALAN emerged as a statistically significant and positive predictor of overweight and obesity (t>1.97; P<0.05), helping to explain, together with other factors, about 70% of the observed variation of overweight and obesity prevalence rates among females and males in more than 80 countries worldwide. Regional differences in the strength of association between ALAN and excessive body mass are also noted.
        This study is the first population-level study that confirms the results of laboratory research and cohort studies in which ALAN was found to be a contributing factor to excessive body mass in humans.

        Intl J Obesity: Does artificial light-at-night exposure contribute to the worldwide obesity pandemic? (May 2016)

        1. clarky90

          Fantastic research. Thanks for posting it, I did not know this.

          I have pulled out the energy saving light bulbs in my kitchen, living room and bedroom and put back the old iridescent bulbs back in (the bulbs that get hot). The old bulbs get hot because they produce the full spectrum of light. The energy savers do not get hot because most of the spectrum is stripped out. It is cheap “junk light” (empty) just as “junk food” is cheap, empty calories.

          I am sleeping in a tent, away from artificial lights, about 4 nights a week now- and the difference in the quality of my sleep, and of my dreams is extra-ordinary.

  6. Cry Shop

    When I was young and in the USA, I remember there were two or three supermarkets chains in every city or large town we living in, but that they were much smaller than the mega-stores of today, with a limited number of selections for any single food source type. Further, pretty much everyone of the society, both upper class and poor shopped (or for the very wealth had their shopping done for them) from these same stores. IE. everyone but the extreme poor had pretty much ate the same diet, particularly in terms of food safety (one things libertarians and apparently Republicans, want to do away with).

    This is no longer true, just as income distribution is no longer a bell curve but a highly negative skewed kurtosis, there is a huge difference between the mean model and normal models of populations diets’ nutrition. Thus a devil catch the hindmost regard to it by those who hold power. The oligarchy feel they can buy their way through this, just as they believe they will buy their survival through the upcoming collapse of the current ecological system for which we are apex predator (nb. wealthy vegans, by consumption, are greater predators, than poor who consume MSP & LFTB).

    1. Tertium Squid

      Did you also notice that nowadays the “baking aisle” (i.e. stuff you can’t eat right away and have to prepare somehow) is just twelve feet of shelf space in an obscure part of the store? That sure didn’t used to be the case.

      1. Katharine

        Bug the store manager. The more people complain about not being able to find what they want, the greater the likelihood it will eventually appear.

        1. jrs

          I suspect that many are posting at work. And well you can’t exactly cook food at work. So I kind of see it as nearly EVERYONE is time crunched these days, but some more than others.

  7. Foppe

    The biggest change between between the 1970s and now is better “disease care”, but the leading causes of death are the same ones as now, even if the order has changed a bit — all chronic diseases, with the exception of the generic category of ‘accidents’, and the (usually unmentioned) category euphemistically referred to as ‘adverse drug reactions’ and other ‘medical mistakes’ (the latter combined category — i.e., doctor error — hovers just below the top 5 leading causes). So I think it very unwise to take 1970 as the baseline.
    And if you go back a bit further, you see that ‘chronic disease’ as a category starts to skyrocket either somewhat before, or directly after WWII, with the ‘democratization’ of the consumption of meat, dairy and eggs, made affordable for all because of the “invention” of factory farming. (This happened in no small part to create new markets for the excess grain/corn that was being produced thanks to the invention of fertilizer, which was driving down prices.) This made everyone feel very happy/affluent because of how meat & dairy consumption was historically — and is, sort of — an indicator of higher social status; but nutritionally, this laid the foundation for an — exceedingly profitable — public health disaster, with a delayed fuse that made it harder to finger (because of how robust the human body is). (Profitable to animal ag, big pharma — disease care is vastly more profitable than is curing infectious disease — and big medicine — bypasses, prescription drugs, stents, chemo, etc. etc., none of which cure. And here we are today.

    I would suggest a different approach:

  8. dk

    A(nother) realated aspect is toxicity of food packaging. Although single instance exposures may be so low as to be considered negligible, repeated exposures can produce significant health impacts. This affects human consumers:

    as well as the general environmental exposure to discarded packaging.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Hate to tell you but the big culprit is that 25% of the calories in the US consumed are sugars, and as the article points out, more and more in the form of high fructose corn syrup which I am pretty sure has a higher glycemic index than cane sugar. You don’t need to look at these issues with gross factors like that. There are people like me who consume virtually no sugars, which means there are people that have more than 25% of their calorie consumption as sugars.

      1. From Cold Mountain

        High fructose corn syrup does not raise blood glucose as much as sugar since it is more fructose than glucose.

        Fructose has a glycemic index of about 20 and glucose is 100.

        What fructose does do is slow down liver function because that is where fructose is metabolized.

      2. Jack

        High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) does have a higher glycemic index than refined sugar. Worse, it is fructose sugar, which is far worse for you than refined sugar. Sugar is now the number one source of calories in the US. Think about that. Fat has 250% more calories than sugar, but sugar still wins out on consumption. I also agree that portions have a great deal to do with the obesity in the US.

        1. David N

          The GI of high-fructose corn syrup is 73, in line with many other sweeteners:

          See also here:

          Maltodextrin Sugar 110
          Maltose Sugar 105
          Dextrose Sugar 100
          Glucose Sugar 100
          Trehalose Sugar 70
          HFCS-42 Modified Sugar 68
          Sucrose Sugar 65
          Caramel Modified Sugar 60
          Golden Syrup Modified Sugar 60
          Inverted Sugar Modified Sugar 60
          Refiners Syrup Modified Sugar 60
          HFCS-55 Modified Sugar 58
          Blackstrap Molasses Sugar Extract 55
          Maple Syrup Natural Sugar 54
          Honey Natural Sugar 50
          Sorghum Syrup Natural Sugar 50

          tldr; there are problems with HFCS, but glycemic index is not among those problems.

          1. polecat

            Support your local beekeeper, folks …..

            …. I give some of my honey away as I see fit …( I … or i should say the bees … don’t produce enough to sell at market) to friends and neighbors. Most really appreciate the gift.
            At home, we use sugar (organic) as well as our honey …. but NO corn syrup at all !! We also cook from scratch 95% to the time. As and aside, I grew 2 types of indian corn in our 4′ X 9′ raised beds last season …. harvested approx. 8 lbs. of seed (not a huge yield, to be sure)… to be ground, as needed into masa, for tomales ……. yuuuuuuuum !

      3. dk

        Agreeing completely that sugar consumption (and carb and fat, as emphasized in the article) is up, and health destructive, and deserves direct attention, the nutritional context is synergistic. If we’re looking at drivers for higher consumption, factors in food that reduce or slow metabolization lead to increased consumption, since it takes more food to satisfy the eater. You write:

        Thus why Americans are fatter and getting more related diseases isn’t primarily about endocrine disruption or more people having metabolic disorders. It’s that on average people are eating 23% more than they used to.

        So you’re saying they eat more because they see each other eating more, i.e., changes propagating through social norms. I’m suggesting they started eating more (and observed each other doing so) in part because of metabolic disorders and their collateral stressors. Also, increased consumption of food is going to lead to more consumption of any metabolic disruptors present in the food.

        Growing portion sizes in the context of reduced physical activity is troubling in any case, but I think we can agree that we would see less (negative) impact on health if the food consumed were healthier. And healthier bodies are less prone to impact by stressors which drive increases in food intake.

        When approaching a situation created by feedback effects, and a critical condition has been reached (or passed), one has to take direct action. But unless we also address the contributing factors within the feedback loop, factors which can be very small in the single instance, the cumulative feedback effects will simply resume once a stable or improved state has been achieved.

        I’m not suggesting that changes in food packaging materials will fix the critical problem(s), which have been increasing for some time (the chart examines a 40 year range). But considering the other aggregated effects of metabolic disruptors in food packaging waste on food sources, attention to packaging materials is called for in any case, and would also improve performance of direct remedies to unhealthy increases in food intake.

  9. LAS

    Epidemic level increases in diabetes are correlated with these historic diet changes. Diabetes is one of the most miserable diseases one can live with and it drives up health care costs, by accelerating or causing organ failure (to heart, brain and kidney) and damage to nerves, eyes, limbs (amputations). There are huge social costs being paid for an excess of carbs and sugar in the American diet.

    While public health agencies have tried to target sugar sweetened drinks with legislation designed to reduce their use, the legislation in NYC failed b/c corporate legal resistance had atypical support from those who fear the effect of regressive taxation methods.

    There’s a fine line to walk in promoting health versus attracting the unlikely alliance between liberals and corporate greed. Communities need somehow to advocate for their own health environment to validate public health actions. People have to believe they can exercise some control over their environment and collectively resist outside influences. One strategy is to build closer trust between public health agencies and communities because the agencies have the health and social data, technical tools, including legal talent, and will to argue for health/wellness equity acts. It is important to monitor the public health agency dedication to communities (and to keep fascist corporate powers out of these agencies). Right now, I’d say public health agencies are nearly wholely pro-community, however, historically this has not always been so. In the 1930’s, fascists used health agencies to work on eugenics and other dismal objectives.

  10. David N

    Canadian nephrologist Jason Fung has a great series on YouTube where he argues that processed carbs and animal proteins which raise insulin are most responsible for obesity. It’s called “the aetiology of obesity”. I’m in a Facebook group where we follow his methods, lots of people are losing 50+ pounds.

    It’s not just that people are eating more, it’s that they’re eating more often and eating fewer fats. The conventional advice to eat six small low-fat meals a day is exactly incorrect.

    Portion sizes don’t explain everything as obesity is rising even among people who can’t afford regular restaurant outings.

      1. David N

        I saw the Mercola interview. I’m not sure how I feel about Mercola. He does do a service in discussing alternative health practices, however, it seems like he believes in *everything* and thus may not be that informative himself.

        I’m a scientist myself, and I see health/nutrition/fitness as the prototypical area where expert advise is wrong. However, that doesn’t mean it’s all wrong and Mercola keeps advocating for all sorts of issues. I’m scared to look up where he stands on vaccines.

        1. Steve H.

          I suggest checking Mercola’s archives and testing to see whether his conclusions stand up over time. I did, and have an opinion, but ‘my own council will I keep’ rather than trying to bias your outcome.

          His stance on vaccines is specific to the mercury used as preservative. If vaccines are of concern to you, this recent interview with Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. was startling to me. The site is partisan, so I’m interested in what you think of the content of the interview.

          1. Cry Shop

            Yeah, you’d think Kennedy would have gone nuts years ago about shutting down coal fired power, which puts loads more mercury, particularly bio-available mercury, into our bodies via veggies, meats, and seafood, than does the low bio-available preservatives in vaccines. He talks it, but there isn’t a lot of real action on it, maybe due to family investments.

            1. Steve H.

              Cry Shop, I don’t know enough about him to comment on his reasons. The interview gives specific history and evidence about the investigations he did do.

              Ubiquitous mercury is absolutely a problem. However, mercury injected directly into a child’s body, in a form which crosses the blood-brain barrier, is a much more direct pathway. Children’s brains are still developing and are especially sensitive to toxicological insult.

              1. Cry Shop

                To be sure, particularly in the mother’s womb, but I’d give lead an even greater impact assessment, and it’s extremely prevalent and highly variable. Glad Outis has fixed it so I can now reference Wallis and Robert’s The Nature of Statistics. Chapters 1 is a great intro into how hard it is to do statistical studies right on humans, and Chapter 3 gives three excellent case studies to show just how a rigorous study should be done (and having read this, it becomes very apparent how few studies are in any way rigorous.

                BTW, the author Kennedy sites on inorganic mercury(ie:non available) deposition in the brain is also an author in the link I referenced above, and in several of this author’s papers he notes food exposure, including breastmilk, is significantly higher than from vaccines. ALARA principles are best, but they also suggest starting with the higher doses first, something that the wealthy behind these schemes don’t like because they derive their income from these sources

    1. TheCatSaid

      Dr. Jason Fung’s series of six YouTube talks, “The Aetiology of Obesity” is one of the things I am most grateful for learning here at NC.

      This series is different from the one-off interview Fung gave linked elsewhere in another comment.

      Each talk builds on the previous ones.

  11. Northeaster

    SUGAR, carbs, and “bad” oils (olive oil is fine), cut those out and live healthier along with a little self-discipline. Also note, chicken may be eaten more due to being cheaper, sirloin is roughly $12/lb in my neck of the woods.

  12. SoCal Rhino

    Personally, in addition to shifting to a diet high in fiber and low in complex carbs, and more frequent meals, I measure everything by weight or volume to control portion size. After a few years your eye gets pretty good and your palate better at detecting ingredients. I agree with the post – when my significant other and I eat out we typically split an entre and order extra vegetables. Hardest to avoid is salt, but we steer clear of the most obvious offenders.

  13. RabidGandhi

    Tangential to the topic, but this from Yves

    Plus the restaurant’s economics pre-suppose most people eating at least two courses, so if you don’t eat up, if you are like me, you feel like you’ve underpaid the restaurant for the use of their table and staff (assuming the restaurant is full).

    is one of the nuttiest things about US culture. As someone who can easily spend half a day in a café and consume nothing more than a coffee, I will never understand why US consumers feel they have an obligation to sustain the economics of the businesses they are patronising. If their business model is not sustainable in and of itself, then what good is it? Furthermore, what is different about US restaurants that make their profit margins so razor thin that restauranteurs not only do not pay their waiters a wage, but also manage to guilt-trip their customers into maximising the restaurant’s profitability?

    Both the tip system and the table time/consumption minimum obsession seem very guilt-based (Yves: “you feel like you’ve underpaid…“). How were these entrepreneurs able to collectively guilt their consumers into subsidising them, and why do consumers allow the guilt to persist?

    1. David N

      I’m sorry, but if you’re in a restaurant for “half the day” (6 hours?) enjoying their ventilation, their seating, their facilities, etc you are costing them money. You should probably pay some back.

      Yes, it’s a rude to monopolize a table and services for 6 hours and then spending only $2.00 to do so.

      1. Art Eclectic

        Exactly. Tables are like airplanes, the business isn’t making any money if nobody’s sitting there eating. Empty tables are non-revenue producing. Loiterers taking up space without buying much of anything are slowing revenue potential. Most of the coffee shops I know of frown on staying for long periods of time without buying anything. Some will only let you use their WiFi for an hour at time before you need to make a purchase.

      2. RabidGandhi

        It’s “rude”.

        This is fascinating. It is not considered rude in my country. Here it is considered rude not to pay one’s waitstaff, but up there it is considered rude for clients not to pay the waitstaff. I’m not sure why clients don’t consider it rude that the businesses they patronise fail to assume their own costs of doing business, and rather expect the patrons to shoulder the responsibilities. I reckon “rude” is a matter of each culture.

        The great kick I get out of this is that we in the third world are endlessly told that the US is a society based on capitalism, economic imperatives, blah blah blah. Yet up there restaurants need customer guilt to survive or their business model goes kaput, whereas here restaurants manage to pay their employees and not guilt their customers into minimum consumption per minute. Go figure.

        1. Foppe

          The restaurant business in the US makes its money off turnover / quantity, not quality / price. This is partly due to demand (visitors want to have their meal within 10 mins of arrival, it seems, and since eating out is so common, prices are sort-of-expected to be affordable — lest they encourage home cooking). My wife and I found it a pretty bizarre experience, but oh well.

          1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef


            How can a diner with a seating capacity of 50 have 200 customers a night?

            Related question:

            How can you pay off interest in a monetary system when interest exceeds the total amount of money in the system?

            Another relation question:

            How can the GDP be greater than, again, the total amount of money in the system?

            I suspect it’s connected to turnover and money-velocity.

            1. Foppe

              simple, include time in the equations. But yeah, velocity is what makes it possible. And an acceptance that promises are not always instantaneously fulfilled. (Hence, more can happen with the same money supply in a digitized economy.)

        2. Katharine

          I really enjoy your perspective on this, especially the “rudeness” of not paying staff. Even here, I would think a restaurant that was not virtually full should be pleased to have someone at a table, as it is a tacit advertisement that this place is agreeable. I don’t know a place where I would want to linger for hours, but I won’t go back to one that makes me feel rushed. If I can’t take my time over the meal, which is usually also a conversation, and linger a little over the coffee, what is the good of going there?

          1. witters

            How do you guys utilise public libraries (if you do). Rush in, grab first book so as not to waste time and resources of the library and staff? Do you tip them too if they manage to get the book for you?

            1. David N

              Public libraries are not free, they are paid for with taxes or philanthropy, usually taxes. The staff at the libraries I’ve spent time in are decently paid.

        3. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

          With the system in place here, if you don’t patronize (because you don’t like the setup at the restaurant and, in general restaurants in this country), you hurt also the workers there (in addition to the owner).

          If you don’t tip (when you do go), you hurt the worker (the waiter or the waitress).

          So, until it changes, the typical (but conscientious) US consumer has to ‘sustain the existing system,’ even if he or she feels no obligation to.

  14. animalogic

    Of course, the elephant in the room (surprise, few like to admit it) is the sheer quantity of junk — Shit — food that people eat.
    I work part time in a convenience/service station store (a reward forvmajor sins & crimes from a past life). It’s an on-going wonder to me just how much chocolate, chips, sweets, ice cream, “soda” people buy.
    By people I don’t just mean teenagers & “blue collar” people — I mean, middle class people. For god’s sake, people over 40 !
    I would die with a leg in the air to see my parent’s generation come in & buy $ 20 of such complete rubbish….(we are not talking “special occasion” here)
    The other interesting factor (other than the grotesque amounts of money involved…grotesque to me, anyway) is that the majority of such purchases seem to be based on no more than…impulse. Individual or group impulse, purchases seem to amount to not much more than “I wanna it !”
    So– it’s not just portion sizes (important as that is)

    1. Martin Finnucane

      When we take a trip anywhere, my wife insists that we stop at a gas station and load up on “snacks.” I use scare quotes because the junk she gets is barely recognizable as food products to me. By the time we’ve gotten where we’re going, the car is filthy with the sticky orange powdery “is it really food?” stuff that emanates from the “snacks.” Our precious children are poisoned with the stuff, and we’ve just spent about 50% more for the trip than we would have had we just paid for gas. Is this the freedom for which “they” (Bin Laden, Putin, etc.) hate us?

      1. juliania

        Junk food is as addictive as cigarettes. The more of it you consume, the more of it you must have. Different reason – the body knows when it is not getting the nutrition it needs, so it screams for more but the palate says “I like that stuff”. And try to find nutrition in those handy ‘convenience’ stores. It simply isn’t there. They do not stock anything with a short shelf life, as per comments above.

        To find good food you have to hunt for it, and most people cannot spare the time. It’s not their fault. And saying you don’t like chicken is like saying you don’t like broccoli – or in other words, ‘Let them eat cake.’ Doesn’t go down very well with desperate people seeking to survive. And what’s in those food pantry boxes generously donated this time of year? Mostly pasta in boxes, sauces in jars or cans. Stuff that doesn’t have a shelf life but will add the pounds if you’re not careful to get physical exercise.

        As a not wealthy person who seldom eats out, my best appliance is a small no-nonsense bread maker. When I shop I get flour not bread, and organic flour at that. It’s expensive, but not as expensive as a good loaf of bread from a store. My machine is falling apart lid-wise, but it is so easy to use. And yes, I have a small garden, even plants right now of chilé and tomatoes in my sunroom. And plant some of those jerusalem artichokes if you think your soil is no good – they will produce a harvest in the worst soil*, don’t require much care; just keep those in your fridge and add to stews – delicious flavor! Plus they are easy to multiply from a few bulbs and you can plant or harvest any time.

        *By ‘worst’ I don’t mean chemically polluted – make your own soil with composted veggie waste in a tub set on the ground – the worms will find it. But unimproved soil is okay for the ‘chokes – they’re a kind of sunflower.

  15. AnnieB

    Agree that portions are too high, Americans eat too much sugar, etc etc. But also many Americans take antidepressants that can cause weight gain. According to this article, 13 percent of Americans take antidepressants.

    Not everyone who takes antidepressants gains weight and doctors don’t know why. Surely some research is in order here! Especially when the cure aggravates the disease. (Weight gain could cause more depression!)

  16. LA Mike

    Adding to what Yves said, I’ve often said the following, which while harsh, has a lot of truth to it:

    “The ugly secret that most people don’t want to accept is that… thin people eat less than fat people.”

    Yes, there’s the talk of high and low metabolism and I’m sure there’s a slight bit of relevance to it. But overall, fit people exercise and eat less food.

    Moving to a tangent. I saw a documentary this weekend called, “The Perfect Human Diet”. One part that was amusing was when a doctor went into a grocery store with the host. He showed how his visits take far less time than most because he only shops in two sections, meat and produce. He said all other sections aren’t really food per se as our ancestors would have known it.

    1. Foppe

      Less by calories, maybe, but not necessarily by volume. I eat easily 2x the volume I ate before I switched to my current dietary pattern (whole foods, exclusively plants, no oils), yet my stable weight (for 2 years now) is ~20 lbs below what it was for 8 years prior to that (bmi went from 24.3 to 22). And I eat ad libitum — no portion restriction, no calorie counting.
      The only thing is that I stay away from consistently is animal food. I avoid processed (vegan) food insofar as possible, might eat some if I’m somewhere where I can’t find anything more appealing, but usually avoid that.
      Breakfast is 1.5 cups of oats soaked in water/plant milk plus a banana and roughly 1/2 cup of some other fruit, plus or minus some spices like cinnamon. Lunch is usually about 1kg / 2.2lbs of wedge-sliced, oven-baked (no oil) potatoes, plus 1/2 lb fresh, cooked/steamed vegetables, plus some ketchup / curry sauce as a condiment. Dinner is a similar-sized plate of something else. Needless to say, never suffer from meaningful satiety issues; but also not from bloating, or post-meal tiredness.
      As for exercise: I get mild exercise while I work, but going by most of my colleagues, as well as my own prior weight, that cannot compensate for problems on the input side. Nor does it explain construction workers, etc.

  17. financial matters

    Heard an interesting talk this morning on pediatric obesity. It centered on the work of dietician Ellyn Satter. What I found interesting was the ‘division of responsibility’.

    Parents are responsible for what to feed your child and the child is responsible for how much to eat.

    For older babies and toddlers through adolescents also whether to eat the foods put before them.

    She found that a lot of interventions were counterproductive and what worked best was basically to pick out the food you want the child to eat at designated times and then let the child choose from those items what and how much to eat.

    She likes for parents to choose and serve the food, provide regular meals and snacks, make eating times pleasant and show the child how to behave at meals.

    The child will eat and eat the amount she needs. She will learn to eat the food you eat, behave well at family meals and grow up to have the body that is right for her.

  18. RUKidding

    When I was a kid (long ago), we only got soda as a really big treat and only a few times per year, usually at birthday and holiday parties. And then we only got one small cup/glass of it. I lived overseas for almost a decade from the late 70s through the mid 80s. When I returned, I was shocked at the huge amounts of soda that people drink daily. That’s another big culprit that brings on weight gain. The mini marts keep selling soda in larger and larger and gigantor cups. It’s pretty obscene.

    We also do have an incredible array of snack foods, which are mostly totally junk and wasted calories. And US citizens love to graze throughout the day. Rather than having a piece of fruit, they buy junky chips and cookies and candy. That just makes you hungrier.

    As someone said, above, thinner people eat less and typically exercise more. That’s really the big secret.

    I work part time in the weight loss field. We encourage people to eat from smaller plates at home. I do. I find it helps me with portion control, which is THE key to maintaining a healthy weight, along with exercising every single day.

    I don’t eat out very much, but like others here, I often either eat an appetizer and a salad (with no dressing and no cheese), or I split an entre with someone, or I take half home to have later. Last night I gave away the rest of my restaurant meal to homeless person. That’s another thing to do.

  19. Ed

    Excellent post and mostly excellent comments.

    I’ll address the narrow question of restaurant food. I’ve noticed a decline in restaurant food over the years, which I attribute to cutting corners by substituting cheaper and lower quality ingredients. Like with everything else, it makes sense to cut down on eating out in restaurants and when you do confine yourself to the more expensive places which (maybe) use locally sourced ingredients. The cheap places are still fine for breakfast.

    Eating out still makes some sense when you are single, because so much supermarket food is sold in family style packaging, so if you are single you have a choice between eating the same thing for days on end, or getting variety but getting used to having alot of things spoil on you. If you have a family, eating out should be confined to special occasions/ meeting with friends/ the family member who cooks wants to go to a restaurant. If you eat out alone, only order one course -often the appetizer is sufficient. If with the family, one appetizer that is shared is OK in addition to the main course.

    The only awkwardness is if you are in a group of friends/ extended family/ acquaintances who all insist on ordering multiple courses. I usually handle this by just ordering one course. If they get all normie about that, its a sign that I want to avoid eating out with these people in the future. But I am an introvert, so while I like social interaction I prefer it in small doses, I am NOT interested in ordering more food than I want to eat to extend a social event built around a meal.

    I’ve left out the taking clients to a restaurant as part of doing business event, and these things are just painful. The problems associated with them just can’t be helped.

  20. Ivy

    We’re doing our part to support the tiny waist movement. Large portions have led us to split entrees and on occasion supplement that with a shared appetizer.
    Agree on the recommendations of other readers:
    no HFCS,
    no artificial sweeteners,
    no trans fats,
    only healthy oils
    fresh fruit and vegetables, and shop around for better taste

  21. Mikerw

    We are big fans of both science and Michael Pollan when it comes to eating. It, as he says, boils down to “eat food, mostly plants, not too much.”

    Processed food (including refined sugar and grains) is not food.

    Stay to the perimeter of the market, not the interior where most processed foods are.

    This is not a moral issue, it is well documented that processed food is engineered to make you eat more.

    As to the human microbe it is nice to hear comments on it and how complicated it is. Our daughter suffers from Crohn’s disease and we know that part of the solution is in the micro biome they just have no idea what it is.

    Lastly, big ag is heavily subsidized, which I’m sure surprises no Naked Capitalism reader, and in all the wrong ways.

    1. TheCatSaid

      Microbes are wonderful and complex and essential. We have many times more microbes than we do cells–and they are found in all systems of our body, not just the digestive tract. On a practical level, I’ve learned a lot about microbes (and how to keep them balanced and healthy) from the Perelandra Nature Research Center in Virginia.

      They’ve developed processes that address microbial health in environments, too (as well as for personal or family health).

      It’s been fascinating to learn about things like battle energy from my microbes’ perspective. . .

  22. Dana

    Since I first heard the phrase “bread is the staff of life” in childhood, I’d understood it to mean the foundation, the base of the food pyramid as it’s now drawn. But what is a staff? It’s a crutch! It’s something to lean on when one’s own legs can’t do the job they evolved to do, because of factors either extrinsic or intrinsic. Grains are what people eat when there isn’t enough real food available. Whole grains may not be completely “empty calories,” but their caloric value far exceeds their micronutrient, fat and protein content. Grains are what has allowed the world population to soar far beyond what grain-free agriculture could support. And grains – not fats – are what are driving the surge in disease and obesity, both directly via acidifying the body and increasing inflammation, and indirectly via supplanting nourishing foods and failing to cause satiety.

  23. Dave

    The quality vs quantity of organics and conventional food is important.
    People’s body needs certain minerals, a.k.a. “taste”, vitamins and calories, plus the satisfaction and mouth feel of fats. They will eat until those physical and mental desires are met.

    Organic foods, raised in healthy fertile soils provide more minerals and vitamins and none, or far fewer, of the nerve-gas related pesticide spray residues found in conventional food.

    A given portion of organic food satisfies more than the same sized portion of conventional food because it usually tastes better from the higher levels of minerals in the plants from the soil.

    Conventional food lacks the minerals, having been grown in depleted skeleton soils doped with chemical fertilizers, so you eat more of it than you would organic because your body stays hungry until it gets what it wants. Often the conventional plants contain more water as well.
    But, the conventional food you eat more of to get the same amount of nutrition as a smaller serving of organic food has just as many or more calories, so you get fatter. Plus, you get the nerve-gas related pesticide residues, the weedkiller residues and sometimes they even burn the plant pre-harvest using weedkiller to make it give up more grain.

    If a smaller portion of organic fills you more than conventional, there often is therefore, no price difference.

    Then there’s the appeal and the calories of the hydrogenated oils, (not allowed in organic food), the animal fats and the sugar added to conventional food. That weird feeling on the top of your mouth after you eat a hydrogenated fat muffin is because vegetable oils heated to 400 degrees F. and put under enormous pressure in the presence of nickle pellets that adds shelf life to the oil, just tastes weird and coats your mouth with a semi-industrial chemical.

    My thesis, eat only high quality organic food and you will be more satisfied, will eat less, weigh less and will be healthier, look better and will live longer. This of course ignores the economic, social and environmental benefits of organic agriculture.

    Organic ingredients are expensive, so it’s unlikely that your plate will be overloaded with large portions.

    1. Dave

      I forgot to mention GMOs (genetically modified organisms) in the conventional food.
      These are prohibited in organic food along with pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics and hydrogenated oils.

  24. Adar

    On a visit to French-speaking Montreal last year, my spouse and I were pleasantly surprised by the restaurant culture. No one was ever asked to speed it up because the next seating had arrived, something we’ve experienced many times in the U.S., even in fine establishments. It seemed no one ever felt rushed at all, and people lingered, talking and laughing, having a good time. At one upscale place, we were there for two and a half hours, and no one minded a bit. All in all, a delightful city; our B&B hosts told us that many Americans complain about the service. We could recognize our countrymen – they hardly talked, and were done in a half hour or less.

  25. kareninca

    A lot of those overeating people are overeating because they are on antidepressants. When I went on Paxil I gained over 25 pounds rapidly. It stayed on the five or so years I took the stuff; yes, it made me much hungrier. When I quit it the weight dropped off in a couple of months and hasn’t come back. I didn’t mind being fat, but it was screwing with my blood sugar; that’s why I quit. These meds are insidious. I was recently considering taking sertraline; a psychiatrist told me that it does not affect blood glucose levels. Well, within 4 weeks it significantly raises blood insulin levels – something you can’t check at home (and high blood insulin makes you hungry)(

    Most of my female relatives are on antidepressants, and they all gained 20+ pounds as a result. I think they are pretty typical; one in four American women take antidepressants; that’s a lot of extra calories consumed. It would be interesting to compute how much of American weight gain is due to antidepressant use (and also how much to reduced smoking).

  26. jake

    All that gorging is in lieu of medication for mood disorders; eating is calming, even to the point of blimp-creation. Restaurants, especially fast food joints, are treatment centers. We’re the happiest people on earth!

    And of course one craves refined carbohydrates most of all, to get high. By contrast, animal fats are fairly harmless. Cut out the sugar, bread and crap oils and you can eat your pound of flesh with impunity.

  27. Quantum Future

    The article and a lot of commentators are pointing toward sugar and or starches as the culprit for obesity and a lot.of health problems. It is. There is a huge amount of people with GI problems. The best diets are higher protein, 50 grams of carbs per day, part of those carbs being 38 grams of fiber per day. 50 grams of carb restrictio eliminates sugar, pastas, potatoes. But ahh how to have a meat and veggie diet?

    In 2014 I had a rough year no need to explain why but lets just say I was trying to be more honest and do the right thing in business and that required some skills training. Anyways, was on a $50 a week food budget. I also had GI problems.

    So I got a Sams membership, where chicken breast was $2.00 a pound. Eggs, $1.20 a dozen. Pinto
    beans, .80 cents a lb. Romaine lettuce, $1.00 a bushel. Ground turkey, $2.50 a pound. I ate a lot of this but could afford spices and sugar free drink mixes. I bought emergency and a probiotic there, Niacin (B3 to help metabolize food) and Flax Seed Omega 3.

    I lost a crapload of weight and most of my GI problems went away which also helped my mental health. People on food stamps should get a Sams or Costco membership where they can and do lots of beans in a crockpot for a staple.

    Poor people in the cities can do this, but it requires outreach to educate them. I do it with every one I meet. Most dont listen because even if doable they buy cheetos, mac and cheese as comfort food. Many are on medicaid, they can and should see an allergist/immunologist to find out what foods they are allergic to. But a few do listen which I why I do it and yeah, having been there and forced to use my God given brain (lucky I was born with a good one and like research) I am compassionate and passionate about the topic.

    I dont eat out much, the food tastes nasty to me and makes me feel like crap. And even making a solid deal of money I cant justify spending $60 on a steak and salad at a good resteraunt. Don’t care if I had $30 M in the bank.

  28. Quantum Future

    Kareninca – 90% of mental illness begins in the digestive system. If you don’t metabolize your food properly (often malabsorption) then your body can’t process the the nutrients into the chemicals your brain needs for proper balance.

    You body will release extra adrenalin to compensate. This causes mania then crash into depression, otherwise know as bi-polar. Psychiatry will treat the symptoms but not the cause. Read my post above about diet which would really help you.

    Try overeating chicken breasts, eggs, porkloin even with fats but cutting carbs to 50 grams and the supplements suggested. After a week of this you will just be full near all the time and eat less. The first week to ten days you have to fight the cravings. Take it day by day that first several days.

    This is a start. Google ‘digestive disorders and mental health’. You will notice as you talk to people with mental illness a very high correlation with digestive disorders. This research can help you as a starting point to being either completely med free or at least, very light meds.

    I found on this diet you can binge out one day every other week and still lose weight, rebalance your digestive system and mind and have a little fun in life too.

    Kind Regards!

  29. Wade Riddick

    With regards to mental health and digestion – well, yes and no. You left out about six dozen major steps. GI flora dysregulation triggers autoimmunity and insulin resistance often leading to loss of adrenergic flow to the target organ and self-tolerance thus leading to the paradoxical effect of elevating it elsewhere (e.g., the heart losses adrenergic drive leading to an autoimmune attack on heart tissue and excessive adrenergic drive elsewhere). The same effects occur in Alzheimer’s (glp-1), Parkinson’s (butyrate), autism, schizophrenia, et al. There are plenty of other players like cortisol too. But it’s always either genes or environment – and, of the later, it’s substantially GI issues propelling the modern disease pantheon.

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