Notes from a big country
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Notes from a big country

On the second night of my trip home, my family celebrated my father's birthday at a large seafood restaurant, one link in a chain of locations scattered across the southern United States. My younger brother, Gatlin, who is 11, ordered something called the "Mixed Seafood Grill". What arrived, half-an-hour later, carried in by a waiter lurching under its horrific weight, can only be described as nautical holocaust. Heaped on a platter the size of a manhole cover were enormous chunks of fish, scallops you could use as hockey pucks, shrimp that could be worn as bracelets.

The cast of Finding Nemo, it seemed, had been slaughtered, their corpses loaded dismissively atop one another and served with butter sauce.  

It was a trend that continued throughout much of the holiday. Order food at any given restaurant and you'd receive a meal one could tactfully call hefty.

There were autumn-leaf piles of French fries, hamburger patties stacked waist-high, "medium"-sized drinks in which a third trimester foetus could bathe.

Strolling into any American convenience store was an experience akin to Charlie Bucket's first peek into Willy Wonka's factory. Aisles upon aisles of candies and snacks and sodas waited patiently, hoping to be picked out, purchased and gobbled. In America, the question the question is not simply, "Should I eat a bag of potato chips?" Instead it is multifaceted — "Should I eat a bag of potato chips? What flavour? What size bag? Puffed, rolled or regular? Do I want fries with that?"

It's obvious why much of the world pokes fun at the weight of my countrymen. When you're spoiled for choice, the act of eating morphs into a form of theme park entertainment. Restaurants, even, sell clothing that represents their brand. When people walk around wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the logo of an ice-cream parlour, is it any wonder so many themselves resemble melting scoops of the stuff?

With their folds of flesh and ham hock arms and multitudinous chins, the idea of the obese American is long-standing and stereotypical — and frighteningly accurate. What's shocking is, as a star-spangled citizen, how accustomed you become to this chubby facet of life. Coming face to face with someone who could be Jabba the Hutt's first cousin is an almost daily occurrence.

You accept it with slippery ease. But any prolonged absence from the country — especially if you spend that time on a continent like Asia, where entire families are, kilogramme for kilogramme, roughly equivalent in size to your average American meal — and you're hit with a stark reality.

You realise how unhealthy your people are, or have become, or are becoming — and worse, you realise how normal you assumed it to be.

As the end of my holiday loomed, my family visited SeaWorld, where, together, for sadistic fun, we watched a depressed orca whale as it was forced to leap and flip out of its enormous water-prison, splashing buckets of cold water upon a jubilant audience which hooted like an amphitheatre full of gibbons.

Somewhere in the midst of this societally accepted abuse, an animal trainer informed us that orca whales can eat up to 110kg of food per day.

A fact such as this, much like the three churros in my belly, was difficult to digest. I clawed another handful of soggy popcorn into my mouth, thinking of the nachos and the Chicago-style hot dog and the barbecued spare ribs I would have for lunch.

How could one animal possibly eat so much? Admittedly, I was enjoying myself. And why not? I exercise regularly and, all things considered, maintain a healthy diet.

Should I be morbidly obese, lecherously flirting with heart disease and gasping for breath with every mounted stairwell, perhaps I'd be wise to ponder my nutritional choices.

Until that time, who's to say I can't enjoy a 95-ounce, bacon-mac-and-cheese-flavoured soda, should the undead craving rise from the grave? Disgusting, you got it, but there's also something to be said about a country that offers so much variety.

It's relaxing, and oddly comforting, and it makes leaving behind my bloated, all-you-can-eat borders and heading back to Bangkok all the more melancholy.

In Thailand, being fat is a challenge. In America, like owning an assault rifle or waving a Civil War slave-flag at your black president, you're entitled to it. Are Americans pigs? Oh, sure. Collectively, we are gluttonous swine.

We're slowly killing ourselves, chugging along on that clogged, arterial highway to death, a fitting end for the bunch of deep-fried junkies that we are.

They just don't make 'em like they do in America, damn straight. There isn't enough food anywhere else.

Adam Kohut is the sub-editor for Guru magazine of the Bangkok Post.

Adam Kohut

Sub-editor for Guru magazine

Adam Kohut is the sub-editor for Guru magazine of the Bangkok Post.

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