By Debbie Almocera
If you’re in the US for the very first time, you’re likely to experience what I call the “supersize syndrome.” That is, realizing that everything, and I mean everything comes in “supersizes”. Whether it’s the Big Mac in your hand or the SUV you’re in, you will realize that size does matter in America.
Let’s focus on food. The first time you order a regular cheeseburger, you wonder if they made a mistake and gave you one for the whole family. The drink that comes with your meal is usually the size you get when you’re having a family reunion in the Philippines. In the States individual soda orders are ridiculously supersized that New York had to propose a law banning soda drinks over 16 ounces!
When my oldest daughter first stepped into one of the most popular fast food chain in the country, her first order was a chocolate milkshake that was larger than any milkshake she has ever seen, it practically shook her. When her “regular meal” arrived, she wondered if she could pack and mail some of her food, and share it with friends back home. Then they offered her dessert that looked so appealing on the illustrated menu. When it arrived, it was it bigger than her meal.
I believe first timers in the US feel a pang of guilt every time they couldn’t eat all the food they’re served. I used to share the same sentiments each time I looked at the food I have to refuse simply because they were too much for my stomach.
In my effort to compensate for my lack of culinary skills, I made the mistake of taking my daughter to an Asian buffet. The minute she saw the delectable display of Asian cuisine, she couldn’t believe her choices. However, it didn’t take us very long to realize that this was a losing proposition. We paid way more than what we imagined we could ingest. She was “full” before she could start tasting everything she wanted. In times of dire hunger we think we can eat anything and everything. The brain responds to visual and olfactory stimulus of food. However, my daughter’s stomach can only accommodate so much food before it sends a signal to the brain that it’s full. To the dismay of her taste buds the hypothalamus (that part of the brain that regulates hunger), dictates that she has to stop eating.
Buffets are as commonplace as fast food restaurants in this country. No matter how small the town, you can bet your last penny you can find a Chinese restaurant with a buffet not too far from McDonald’s wherever you are in these United States. And for this, what can I say but I’m grateful.
The perennial question during the first few days of my daughter’s colonial life is – “where’s the rice?” Whether it’s a fast food restaurant or a fancy steakhouse, her first question is “do you have rice?” Imagine the surprise of the servers at KFC when my daughter insisted they have to have rice on their menu, because that is the only way she could eat fried chicken! Apparently, they have rice with their chicken at KFC Philippines. Mind you, I was the same way during my first few years in the States, before I developed a taste for hamburgers and fries as actual meals.
Grocery shopping for the first time was not a very pleasant experience. I thought, “that’s it, I’m going to go hungry”. Food in massive quantities and extra large canned goods were staring at me in the face, but there was nothing I could eat. All I wanted was a small plate of rice and something to go with it. I realized that if I want to eat my kind of food, I’d have to learn to make them myself. The first thing on my list was a rice cooker.
When I found one I realized I have never had such a great appreciation for a simple kitchen appliance. What a priceless invention for those like me who needs it out of dire necessity and survival.
My daughters have since adjusted to the American way of eating – unhealthy. And I couldn’t be any prouder. The humungous cheeseburgers no longer look as intimidating as they used to. We have gotten so used to eating larger meals that our stomachs have finally stretched to the dismay of our brains. Miraculously, my girls still look like waifs in a hunger colony. Which makes me wonder, where did all that food go?
Debbie Almocera is a licensed therapist working in the behavioral medicine department of one of the largest hospitals in St. Louis, Missouri. For her, there has not been a more fulfilling and rewarding career than the one she has now. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org