Happy to have my favorite Australian friend post today all about her perspective on food in America. You can read about her adventures on her blog here. Thanks Elyse! Next time, I’ll see you in Australia.
Having just come back from (yet another) trip to America, I feel like I am in some kind of position to make some observations about the difference between Australian cuisine and American food. It’s interesting because in a lot of ways we’re remarkably similar. While Australian culture is distinctly its own, it is also heavily influenced by American pop culture. I like to describe America as ‘Australia on steroids’. There are some distinct differences between our foods:
- Portion sizes (dining out)
- Flavourings and additives
Here in Australia we have all the same basic basic products which Americans have, however, due to the much larger population of the USA (300 000 000 vs 23 000 000) there is less of a market for more obscure products and flavours. For example, in Australia, you can buy baked beans in cans, but they only come in tomato sauce (ketchup). In the USA, I noticed there were baked beans in ketchup, maple syrup, maple syrup and bacon, BBQ sauce…that’s just 4 extra flavours for one product.
So multiply that by thousands of products and imagine how much my mind BOGGLED when I walked in an American supermarket. To me it seems that the USA will take an ‘original’ product and then experiment and see how many other obscure flavours it can mix with it. Usually, (I’ll make the note) either peanut butter or bacon. During my trip to the USA I noticed ‘Baconaise’ (Bacon flavoured mayonaise), bacon flavoured tooth paste, lip balm and dental floss. Gross!
Portion Sizes and Dining Out
To me it comes as absolutely no surprise that the USA is leading the way in obesity and weight related health concerns. Every time I visit (unless I’m staying with one RD Lauren Fowler), I find myself leaving with not only my waistband feeling a little tighter but my whole system feeling a little bloated and unhappy.
To be fair, I’m often in the mentality of ‘this is a holiday, I want to sample everything!’ However, I find that on the whole it is incredibly difficult to go out and order a healthy meal. Also, going out to eat is so cheap in comparison to Australia, so Americans have much more of a ‘going out’ culture. Many Australian students prefer to stay home and cook their own meals because it is much cheaper, and in doing so, they ‘usually’ end up with a healthier alternative to a burger and chips. [Lauren here: Cooking most of your meals is the best way to eat real food AND save money.]
Nor do we have the soda drinking culture of the USA. Unlimited refills at American restaurants were an incredible novelty for me at first. However, I soon found myself feeling sick and then, after a few days, noticed my face breaking out. Drinking soda as though it is water is something I find Americans consider normal and definitely is not in Australia. I did some research and found this paragraph from a news article:
“Other nations drink soda more responsibly. Japan drinks 34 liters per capita, compared to 165 liters per capita in the United States, according to market research firm Euromonitor. Examples of moderation abound: Russia (30 liters per capita), South Korea (27 liters per capita) and Italy (49 liters per capita). In the United States, soda is our most consumed beverage; we drink almost twice as much as we do bottled water.” Source here.
Another thing I’ve noticed about American food is the portion sizes. To be fair, Vermont is pretty even with Australia on this one, however my time spend down in North Carolina made me gawk. All my friends there were in the habit of ordering a box along with their meal, and packing in half of their food immediately after it arrived.
Along with these enormous portions came the fact that we often skipped meals after having a particularly large one. In Australian eating culture we have three smaller meals a day, with two snacks (morning and afternoon tea). My family will even eat dinner at about 5pm, and then have some sort of supper at 7 or 8, usually a piece of fruit or some toast. I can’t help but feel that this kind of eating puts a lot less stress on my stomach and keeps my metabolism up all day long.
Flavours and additives
On the whole, I notice American food to be sweeter and saltier than Australian food. One particular example I noticed was the bread. American bread bought from a grocery store is sugary and falls apart in your mouth. Initially I hated it and couldn’t eat it. Interestingly, by the end of my 6 month stay in North Carolina, I barely noticed it. I guess that just shows how quickly your taste buds and body adapt to the increase in sugar.
I also found American food harder to stop eating. There were more flavours and stimuli to every bit of processed food which I ate, and I struggled to turn my brain off and walk away. I also found this interesting article on 10 types of foods and additives which are banned elsewhere in the world but allowed in America.
So there you have it. I’m sure there’s more, but this so far has been my experience of American food vs Australian food.
And just in case anyone was interested, here are some Australian food staples which you can try yourself if you’d like!
A staple at children’s parties, but I am a self confessed addict. It’s a treat and really easy to make. Just get white bread, put some butter on it, and then cover in sprinkles! (We call them hundreds and thousands) Make sure you cut them diagonally! That’s very important!
Vegemite on toast
I can almost guarantee no American will like this. Vegemite is a typical Australian spread. It has a very strong flavour and is very salty. The best way to eat it is to make some toast, put some butter on it, and then top with a thin layer of Vegemite. I however like to eat it straight with a teaspoon. Gross, I know.
I know burgers are considered an American ‘thing’, but I really think Australians do it better. It’s all in the bread. Don’t buy the sugary hamburger buns that you can get at McDonalds. Buy dense, crusty rolls, make your own patties with loads of beef, onion, Worcestershire sauce, paprika, salt and pepper. Once it’s cooked, load up the burger with lettuce, cheese, onion, tomato, a slice of beetroot, a ring of pine apple and a top with a fried egg. Add ketchup. Wala!