In America, it has taken several documentaries, books and expert nutritional advice to help me choose healthy food – unlike cheeseburgers – to enjoy.

I just finished reading Omnivore’s Dilemma. It mysteriously appeared on my desk a few months ago; someone who still is anonymous thought I should read it. I remember my friends singing it praises a year ago and now I can see why. It also cleared up a confusion I had about some weight loss in England. When I was twenty-two, I lived in England for a year. I only changed one thing in my diet when I went abroad; I ate multi-grain bread instead of white. Yet I dropped two dress sizes all the while enjoying pints and chips covered in malt vinegar and wrapped in newspaper. Until this day, it was always a mystery to me how I could have lost weight on English fare.

But American fare and our way of eating is much more insidious. Corn is in everything manufactured. I didn’t believe this assertion in Omnivore’s Dilemma until I started reading labels. It’s in pasta, soda, yogurt and even ketchup. Surplus corn is synthesized into a variety of ingredients; for example high fructose corn syrup sweetens almost every soda and corn is synthesized into emulsifiers found in an assortment of frozen foods. We also do not have a culture of food, like the English, French, or Greeks. In England, Sunday constituted a big Sunday dinner. Either my flat mate or myself would cook and we would cook for about twenty friends. It was social, leisurely and incredibly enjoyable. Looking back on the year, we didn’t eat out very often. There were many shared dinners and meals were hardly ever rushed. I found it odd at the time but every meal and social engagement included some sort of tea. Even stranger, eggs and milk were left in the cupboard rather than fridge and people shopped on a daily rather than weekly basis. Canned and processed food did not list undistinguishable ingredients. I was tickled to find out that chocolate contained cacao, sugar and cream rather than the incomprehensible list of things found in Hershey bar.

It seemed the reason I lost weight in England was lack of highly processed corn in my diet. Since the weight came back fairly readily when I returned, it seemed the most obvious culprit. It wasn’t just Omnivore’s Dilemma that has educated me and made me a fan of European food and eating habits. Reading Superfoods has made me familiar with fourteen foods that can boost health. Watching the documentaries, Food Inc. and Obesity in America cemented in my mind that food doesn’t fit neatly into an industrialized or global definition. It is best when local. I have seen family members get diagnosed with diabetes and cancer; these ailments have always been coupled red flags in their food choices. I have also gone back to reading Andrew Weil and agreeing with him about his caveat that health is intimately linked to nutrition. My first time heralding this claim was when I changed my food in college. I was diagnosed with ADD at sixteen. In college, I went off meds and cut out simple sugars and carbohydrates in my diet. My ADD actually improved dramatically with the dietary change.

So my food has changed once again in response to my research on the normal American diet. I started shopping at farmer’s markets rather than Safeway. I buy fruits and vegetables in season that are locally grown. I look at ingredients, if there is more than five I put it back on the shelf. I look for meat and eggs that haven’t come off an assembly line or are corn fed but rather comes from a local farm. What’s so funny is when I was in England, this is exactly how I shopped but I didn’t know it at the time. In America, it has taken several documentaries, books and expert nutritional advice to help me choose food healthy enough to enjoy. But the experience has opened me up to a world of taste and enjoyment that was seriously lacking in the processed food I used to eat.

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The American Diet 24 April,2013Cat



Cathleen (Cat) is the former Special Projects Manager at California Academy of Sciences and worked in the public programs division.
Before working at the Academy, Cat got her start as an intern at Lindsay Wildlife Museum for four years and worked with animals ranging from snakes and hawks to foxes and bobcats. She has a deep curiosity about the natural world and native California wildlife.

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