Monday, September 17, 2007

Why Asian people are skinny

Since getting to Asia, I have been struck by the near impossibility of finding non-fried food. Whatever their stances on politics, religion, art, and tradition, every culture in this region seems to in agreement on one thing: oil and breading are awesome.

This, of course, is at odds with your (well-founded) stereotypes of the locals as being exceptionally skinny. Coming from a country where 64.5% of adults are overweight, and 30.5% are obese, coming to Hong Kong has involved a few moments of realization where I look around the room and think, "my god, there are no fat people here" (apparently, they are regarded as romantically unsuccessful around here). And if you think that Americans have the most unhealthy body images in the world, you have not seen advertisements for Hong Kong gyms, which typically involve a large photo of an emaciated-looking Asian girl, with an inset photo of the same Asian girl looking healthily thin, the suggestion being that the former is somehow superior to the latter. Emaciated Asian girl certainly always looks happier than healthily thin Asian girl, is usually dancing awkwardly or dressed fancifully, and often has a vaguely blank look on her face, like she's blithely contemplating her terrifying jutting clavicle bones.

So what gives? The obvious answer is that people walk more here than they do in the United States, which is true. And the terrain is hillier than anywhere I've been in the U.S. other than San Francisco, which would help. But it really isn't enough to make up for the frying of everything, or the broad availability of delicious treats at Chinese bakeries on every corner. The food's too good! People should be fat! I was struggling with the gap, until Marie offered a satisfying theory.

People here are not skinny in spite of the broad availability of delicious food, but because of it. When they're eating something that tastes great and they feel full, they can stop without worrying that they'll be stuck eating mediocre food for a week until the next delicious thing comes along. Because the next delicious thing will be available wherever they are, whenever they want it. There just isn't any reason for people to stuff themselves unnecessarily.

I submit to you that if Americans were more demanding of good taste at all levels of the culinary marketplace, they'd develop some healthier habits (and some shrinking waistlines). As it is, we're stuck with the worst chocolate in the world, disgustingly inferior sugar, and somehow we're managing to convince the rest of the world that they should drink our pathetic excuse for coffee.

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