Sun July 27, 2014
Be prepared for probably some gross generalizations—this is all completely based on my own observations.
In general, the US has a problem with obesity. I realize (from my own experience) that this isn't always directly proportional to how much you eat. But I've been pondering the topic a lot lately. Spaniards are not obese. I have met a few that are overweight, but it's not common. And being obese is even more rare. I always thought it was because they had a better diet than Americans, and that they probably exercised more. But, I don't think that's entirely true.
The Spanish diet does have a lot of good things about it. And to an extent it probably is better than the average American, in that they don't eat as much really terrible fast food as we do. But their food (in the city, at least) isn't as fresh as I expected. All they eat for breakfast is bread and sugar, usually coffee and toast or pastries. They drink a lot of sugary beverages, and consume a lot of alcohol with lunch, tapas and dinner. The food isn't as natural and fresh as I'd hoped. I was looking forward to tart European yogurt, and instead the yogurt aisle looks way too much like it does in the US—most of it containing added sugar. They even have Danone. :( Granted, I live in the biggest city in the country, so I'm hoping the smaller towns have less commercialized food. I did get some amazing cheese right from the farmer while I was on the Camino.
A side note: As for exercise, living in the city, a lot of people do walk quite a bit. And there's a park near my house that has a running track, which is usually packed with runners and walkers. But I also have friends who don't really exercise much at all. And I feel that there aren't near as many gyms here as in the US. I have only seen a few. Not that that's the only way to exercise, but it's a way to measure that people do it, right?
But, back to eating, a topic (obviously) often on my mind. The conclusion that I've come to is that there are two things that I have noticed where Spain is very different from the US, as far as meals: portion size and dedicated eating times.
Restaurants serve fairly small portion sizes. You're not going to to find any Claim Jumper's portions here. And since restaurants serve small portions as snacks, people will eat more often, and eat less. I like that. And if you do order something large, it's expected that you'll share it. I like that too. I went and got gelato with a friend (an american). She ordered the largest cone they offered, which came with 4 scoops of gelato. The girl serving us started to put two spoons in the cone. I told her I wasn't going to eat any, and as she put the second spoon back, her eyes got huge with incredulity. If only she could see Leatherby's and American gluttony at its finest!
What I mean by dedicated eating is that they only eat when they are sitting down, focused on eating. There's no eating while walking or while traveling. I ate an apple while walking once. And the entire time I was completely aware that I was breaking all norms. I was hungry though, so I did it anyway. Since then I've seen two other people eat something on the street. The only times Spaniards ever eat anything while walking is if they have an ice cream cone (which isn't even super common).
They also don't usually eat in the car. The cars here don't even have cup holders. I don't think I would have even noticed, except that Susana pointed it out to me. We were driving in her BMW, and she said that was something she'd noticed in the US, that every car has multiple cup holders, and they don't here. That's when I looked around and realized there wasn't a single cup holder in there!