Sunday, 15 May 2011

Going for bloat

It’s no secret that I love to eat well. I don’t do midget-sized portions and I like things to be generous on the plate. But despite all of this, the US of A nearly brought me to my knees on my recent visit with its gargantuan serving sizes in restaurants.

Anyone with half a brain will, of course, know to expect big portions in the States. But for some reason, I was surprised almost every time with the surreal over-abundance of the food servings when eating out. Plates were piled high to the rafters. It was, at times, almost nauseating. I tried various tactics to surmount this – ordering the smallest sized burger or sharing a plate of food with my husband. But sometimes you want different things on the menu from each other, so sharing doesn’t always work. And if you’re staying in B&B’s, you can’t always take the leftovers with you. Nor would you want to take certain types of leftovers home – I mean, who wants the rubbery cold eggs from brunch, a soggy sandwich or the wilted salad from lunch?

A few examples:

A taco salad. I thought this was going to be lettuce, tomatoes, avocado, crispy bits of taco and maybe some sour cream. I fancied a light lunch. Instead, I got a dog-bowl sized dish with a few bits of lettuce drowning under a sea of chilli con carne, garnished with a family pack of nachos, cream and a half tonne of cheese. I struggled to even get half of the way through (and I was hungry):




Brunch pancakes with maple syrup and bacon – the food was delicious, but why a WHOLE plate of bacon for one person, and three of these hefty half-inch-thick pancakes? I could barely finish two of them, and the bacon was far too much:




This salt beef bagel – also delicious, but check out the inches of filling! You can barely get your jaw around it!




The result of all this eating made me totally lose the sensation of hunger at various moments on the holiday, despite my best efforts not to over-stuff myself. It was almost impossible not to overeat, though, because everything had lost its sense of proportion on the plate.

What all of this made me wonder is where this over-the-top portion generosity hails from? Why the need to go overboard with everything? My father-in-law said to me that it stemmed from a desire to show that the USA is the biggest and the best and that people would feel cheated with anything less on their plate. My step-mum-in-law is a New Yorker and she says that city residents generally have tiny apartments, often with limited kitchen facilities, and they take the leftovers to eat at home in lieu of cooking. But not everyone in the US has a small living space. Our friends from San Diego say they are regularly ‘shocked’ by the food waste they see.

I know that Americans are generally much better at asking for doggy bags and taking leftovers home that we are in the UK . But still – there is a mammoth amount of food waste. Time after time I saw half-full plates being cleared from tables and not reappearing as doggy bags. The stuff that gets thrown out must be shocking. It would probably be enough to feed several impoverished nations year-round. One evening we ate in a seafood restaurant in Cambria called The Sea Chest, where the waiter saw the hesitation on our faces, and asked us if we wanted to share one course together. I asked if the portions were huge and he said “Yes. Enormous. We have to throw so much away. And it’s totally our fault for offering it in the first place.” We took his advice and shared our fillet of mahi mahi and it was the perfect amount for two.

Anyone else been stuffed to the gills on a trip Stateside? What are your thoughts on the food waste in the USA ? Am I over-reacting?


  1. I so hear you. It disgusts me to be honest. When we went there, we just ordered starters after the first few days, or asked for half portions. We simply couldn't manage the plates they brought. We were staying with friends, so we could - and did - take leftovers home. The leftovers from two of our plates were enough to feed the four of us all over again the next day.

    I've been watching Man vs Food show, with Adam Richman, and as much as I llve it, it also makes me gasp at times with the sheer amount of waste.

  2. Hey Lisa.
    I am in total agreement re: Man Vs Food - I watch the show quite a bit, despite myself, and find the spectacle of people trying to eat burgers the size of buses (and patting themselves on the back for doing so) really nauseating, especially when so many people in the world don't have enough to eat. Imagine people who are starving watching this on TV - too depressing!

  3. It's crazy. I put on 1/2 stone over 3 weeks in the states on my last visit. BUT i prefer the American over generosity to the British alternative. At the Rose on Oxford HIgh Street I paid £2.85 to have bacon with my scrambled eggs and got one rasher. One rasher!
    I was starving within 10 minutes of leaving the place.


  4. Yes I agree that one rasher is a tad miserly! Perhaps 3 rashers is the ultimate happy medium?
    A :o)

  5. As an American, I absolutely agree with your summation. One thing to note, however, is that not all of Americans want or appreciate such huge portions. It is a phenomenon that appeals to a particular brand of American. They're the same ones who drive the huge SUV's, don't recycle and shop at Walmart . . .
    I now live in the UK, but I've always been shocked at food portions. I often share a meal and even more often, I head home with a "doggy bag" full of food.