So as you can see, Europeans have fast food. McD’s is found in 10 locations in the very hip and cosmopolitan city of Barcelona, for instance. They don’t have nearly as many chains or locations as we do, though.
I have a weird little game I played in airports and train stations all over Europe and in the U.S. I counted groups of 100 people and keep a tally of how many of them are overweight/obese, just to compare countries. I don’t do this to be mean-spirited, nor do I think it’s the most statistically sound experiment ever. People in airports are probably leaving out the oldest citizens, for instance, creating something less ideal than a true random sample, although this should be uniformly true everywhere, so the results are skewed across the board. And I can’t ferret out the tourists from the natives. (However, very few Americans are traveling in Europe now to skew my results, with the weak dollar, I found.) This is what I found very consistently (and I repeated the experiment over and over to see if any of my samples of 100 are outliers):
United States: over 50% are overweight, some obese (this is not new information to you)
France, Spain, Italy: about 15% are overweight
England: about 20% are overweight
Italians in northern Italy are big meat eaters (the southern Italy diet, famed as “Mediterranean,” is much more plant based). Everywhere you drive in the top half of the country, corn fields are growing–not to feed the people, but to feed the livestock (and ethanol refineries, I’m sure). The French really do eat a lot of white bread products. They have junk food accessible everywhere. Why, then, are the vast majority of them thin and relatively fit? These are my theories.
Where Europeans have Americans (and Canadians and Aussies) beat:
They have portions under control, they eat more vegetables, and they exercise more (lots of walking and bike riding going on)
Where Americans have the Euros beat:
Europeans are certainly struggling with high levels of heart disease and cancer. Their smoking rate is incredible, whereas that’s the one marker that the U.S. has seen strong gains: our smoking rate has gone down consistently during the past two decades.
Honestly, I think part of the portion control is achieved simply because they CAN’T AFFORD to eat more! Overuse of anything is rather socially taboo (those tiny little Smart Cars are everywhere), and a can of Coke is $4-$5 (about 3 euros or so) at any gas station. And with exorbitant fuel costs, the Europeans long ago started riding bikes and walking. In Italy, all the cars are tiny. I never saw a single Suburban or Expedition, or even a Honda Pilot like mine. No wonder the birth rate is negative in that country–the cars won’t fit any children! Roads are narrow and would never allow the big honkin’ cars we drive here. And the shops don’t have parking–I never saw a Walmart or its trademark small-city-sized parking lot, though I’m sure Walmart exists somewhere in Europe.
I’m buying a scooter next spring to reduce my usage of nonrenewable energy. (I already drive the highest-mpg mid-size SUV on the market.) I’m going to learn to buy a bag or two of groceries and put them in my scooter on my way home from the gym or work every day or two, rather than the usual bigger shopping trips. My inlaws can’t believe I’m going to ride to the university 20 mins. away on a scooter, but I’m going to try it.
Today, the first day of school, my children are walking to school, and they’ve been informed that’s our New Normal. We’ve always been pretty green, with the plant-based diet, gardening, composting, avoiding packaged foods, and eating weeds. But I’m inspired to get GREENER. Do you have two garbage cans going to the curb each week rather than just one? If so, you might want to consider doing the same. What’s cool is when you can send your one garbage can out every OTHER week because you use so little that comes in boxes, cans, and bottles.