The United States of Misconceptions

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The United States of America – the land of the free, home of the brave and where dreams are made. I adore this country. I am lucky enough to have visited several times growing up, discovering the nation on family vacations. I associate it with theme parks, extravagance, friendliness, over-the-top-ness and good food. Yes, good food.

I strongly believe those who have not visited the U.S of A often have predetermined misconceptions of the place – which are frequently incorrect. One that particularly grinds my gears (and which hand-on-heart I have had a lot of personal encounters with) is the expectations – and what some believe is their educated understanding – into the food that is offered there. Basically only food that it is greasy, fattening and unhealthy.

Wrong.

Due to the fact that I have been to Florida, Los Angeles, New York, North Carolina, San Francisco and places in between, I like to think I have experienced enough of America to comment – with some credibility – on this. I cannot pretend that there aren’t masses of fast-food, supersized, fattening restaurants and diners lining the streets of the cities that I have visited, but no one said you had to eat there. There are multitudes of alternatives – you just have to look for them!

And in saying that, even if you do find yourself in a Denny’s, a Taco Bell or a Bob Evans, I can guarantee you that you will either be able to find a healthy, good meal or create your own from whatever is on the menu due to the versatility of the American hospitality service.

To support my claims, I recently visited my little sister in Raleigh, North Carolina – a holiday which consisted of touring her university, eating, watching college football, eating, shopping and eating. Below are a few snapshots of some the most delicious food I have had in a long time, seasoned with friendly service and topped with affordability.

First up was a newbie for me – McAlister’s Deli. This gem has a simple but mouth-watering menu consisting of giant spuds, sandwiches, soups and salads. Yes, everything can come with a side of fries, but that is your choice. I chose the New Yorker – corned beef and pastrami piled high, swiss cheese and spicy brown mustard on toasted rye. I then stuffed it with my side of a pickle (or a giant gherkin as I would describe it).

My parents had also set up a visit to Panera Bread, a surprisingly good, simple and homely bakery/café chain which too offers sandwiches, soups and pastries at reasonable prices – something I often lacking in London. Simple yet deeply satisfying.

Speaking of sandwiches, check out this beauty! A late night hunger took us by surprise so we ventured to the nearest Wallmart for ‘snacks.’ From memory it was aptly named a ‘Five Meat Sub’ and consisted of five different types of salami – plus salad. Yes extravagant, yes a little OTT but boy was it tasty, and, while not a 1-calorie salad, it definitely isn’t the head-sized steak and fries some people believe is the only thing on offer.

After a huge day of shopping, we decided to have our evening meal at a sports bar/restaurant place called Champs. Here, while the menu consisted on what most ‘never-visited-America’ people might think – buffalo wings, pizzas, burgers etc – there were also loads of healthier options. I chose a Sesame Seared Tuna Salad – seared rare ahi, baby greens, red peppers, water chestnut, mandarin oranges, wasabi, Sriracha, orange ginger dressing and english mustard sauce (umm case in point, no?)

But, and this is a big but – when you DO want the grease, the fat, the melted plastic cheese that should taste horrendous but is just oh, so, good – I have to agree, the options are endless. Check out my brother’s “snack before lunch” Philly Cheese Steak sandwich. Oh, and with a side of chilli cheese fries.

And check out this delectable, desirable, yet, disgusting, dessert. My sister and her best friend shared, and not surprisingly, struggled to finish it. From memory it was listed in the menu as a chocolate brownie with a side of whipped cream…you can imagine our surprise when this arrived.

I’m more of a frozen yoghurt, fruity kind of gal, and lo and behold, they have that too! My sister introduced me to all that is good when she took me to Sweet Frog. Here, you pay by weight, and can fill your punnet with sweet flavours e.g. strawberry, banana, tropical – and salty e.g. salted caramel pretzel, peanut butter, barista blend coffee.

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I may have gone off track a wee bit, distracted by the taste sensations I encountered on my brief, but mind-blowing culinary journey.

My point is, as a non-American, I too believe (and have seen) the extremely obese people in America, the ridiculously sized portions, the ‘cheese in a can.’ But there are – and this should be obvious – alternatives. I have named but a tiny percentage of what is available besides the unhealthy options. Yes they exist, and are forever in your face, but it is always down to you what you eat.

And for the record, I have tried ‘cheese in a can’ and it ‘aint half bad 🙂

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13 responses »

  1. As always Kel your writing either takes me back to the place you are writing about or I feel as though I have visited the place even if I haven’t . This is like having my own personal diary writer . I Love It . Can’t wait for the next one .

  2. I agree, I have had lots of wonderful food in the US during my multiple visits over the years. Obviously, bad/greasy/unhealthy food is plentiful, but you don’t have to look hard to find the good stuff, as you so rightly pointed out.

    • Hi Vahagn.

      Thanks so much for your comment.

      This post was inspired by so many people telling me what they think is the only food available in the US. And it was frustrating me, as you could probably tell! 🙂

      I’m so glad you agree!

      • The only thing that bugs me about the food in the US is the size of their portions that seem to be getting bigger with every visit. Since I don’t like leaving food on my plate, I end up eating way too much 🙂

      • I guess… but it’s becoming ridiculous already. A friend’s child actually said once: “Mom, this is too much ice-cream, I can’t finish it.” She said she had never expected to hear that from a child 🙂

      • hahaha! I wonder what, if anything, would convince food establishments to reduce their portion sizes? Surely there is a HUGE amount of food waste, which presumably results in them loosing money?

      • I have no idea. Huge amount of food is wasted, plus people eat more and more, and become bigger and bigger, and ask for bigger portions. It’s a vicious circle, really.

  3. All I can say is that the availability of better food choices must have improved out of sight since my numerous visits to the U.S. I have been to all sorts of places including Hawaii, Massachusetts, Louisiana, Florida, Texas, California and was always confronted with horrible food. I remember being invited to dinner by people we had met on our travels at their home and being absolutely staggered at all the vitamin pills they had lined up at the table. Presumably this was to compensate for what they weren’t getting from their food. However, I am going back a while and healthy eating is now a popular message in most western countries but speaking personally big portions just turns me off.

    • I can only presume you are going back QUITE a while! 🙂 But I would be interested to know how much research you did into looking for better options? Or was it simply walking out of the hotel and having a look? Because I can only agree with being confronted with poor options when that is your approach. But as I said, you have to look for it 🙂

  4. Like you, I have always been able to find good food, but it has often been a struggle outside of the big cities, particularly when looking for vegetarian options. Like Vahagn, my biggest issue is with the portion sizes: even the healthiest meal can be way too much if there’s way too much of it!

    However, what I learnt when staying with friends (rather than staying in hotels) is that these portion sizes are a way of life. You’re not expected to eat it all; it’s common place at the end of a meal for there to be food left on the table. The staff simply come along and ask if you wanted it boxed up. People then take it home and eat it the next day. Cuts down on food waste, but not so useful for the visitor until all hotel rooms have fridges and microwaves in them!

    Brian.

  5. As an American, it’s really interesting to hear about American food from somebody else’s perspective. We definitely have our share of nasty and fast foods but there are more good alternatives I think. Especially in the pacific Northwest where I live (near Portland, Oregon) there is a big emphasis on healthy food; such as eating locally grown and organic foods.

    • Hello! Thanks for your comment 🙂

      I completely agree with you and a friend’s naive comment regarding American food was the inspiration for the post!

      It is great to hear about the push for healthy, locally grown food in your area! That is something I think New Zealand could definitely emphasise more. Unfortunately though that usually means fruit/vegetables/meat is a lot more expensive. Do you find the same in your area?

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