Those who have been following this blog through several posts know that "home" means the United States. When I started losing weight, it was on a nearly 3-year countdown for this time. I knew that getting a job when I returned would be greatly more difficult if I didn't lose weight. There would also be other logistical problems (plane seat size, using sea belts in cars, etc.) and health issues that might make it hard for me when I returned. Now, I'm here. I'm "home".
"Home" doesn't feel like home anymore though. After over 20 years in a foreign culture, America feels like the "foreign" place, though I fit in a lot better here than I did where I was. In fact, part of the weirdness is that I'm not really "weird" here at all. People don't stare, point, or even notice me at all. They just treat me like any other person. This is because I don't look greatly different from others, and a part of that is that I'm not part of a tiny minority, and the other part is that I no longer weigh nearly 400 lbs. I'm sure that, in America or not, I'd be attracting unwanted attention at such a high weight.
It's strange being back for a plethora of reasons, many of which are not relevant to this particular blog. My husband remarked that, in our former home in Asia, we were "seen", but not "heard". In America, we are "heard", but not "seen". I see this as ironic as I used to be much more "seen", even in the United States. When I was younger, and much fatter, people were making rude comments, laughing at me, and generally treating me poorly based on my body size. It's odd to be unremarkable, even here.
The place where I am currently residing is not "typical" in many ways, so I'm not sure if I'll feel differently in a more mainstream area. I'm spending 6-8 weeks in an area in which the population is generally older and richer than average overall. This is a place that people come to during the warmer times and tend to stay away from during the colder times. It's safe to say that the population at present is at a low and skewed toward year-round residents who are less affluent.
I'm staying in the vacation home of my in-laws, who are significantly more affluent than me and absolutely more so than my family (who are still poor) on an island in the Pacific Northwest. What I've noticed so far may not apply to a more balanced population, but so far I've noticed that at least some people are taller and many somewhat to greatly heavier than me.
The main thing I've noticed, of course, is that the food here is quite different and, as is so often said of American food, the portions are larger. My husband and I bought some pastries at a bakery and they are so large that they need to be cut into thirds or quarters to suit our dietary wishes. That is, we don't want to eat too much, so we have to divide things. In our former place of residence, cutting things in half was about "right" for proper portion control. It's easy to see that larger sizes are "normalized" in all things. That doesn't mean we can't control portions, and honestly, we find it relatively easy to do so, but that I can see how people who never became acculturated to smaller sizes would not even think to cut things down to the extent that we do. Even half is a lot here, but perspective probably makes people believe half is "small".
Another thing I've noticed is that the sections of the market which sell prepared, processed frozen food are vastly larger than what I experienced in my former residence in Asia. I can very clearly see how easy it is for people to just buy frozen food and pop it in the oven rather than prepare their own food. There are also many more mixes and canned foods. If I buy all of the ingredients to make my own soup, it's much more expensive than picking up a can of soup on sale. The place where I lived before not only had very little in the way of prepared soups, but it was more expensive to eat such convenience foods than to make it yourself.
So, the food culture and economics are reversed such that people are encouraged to eat more and to not cook. That doesn't change how I will eat, but it does go some way toward understanding the migration of the American diet to being over-sized and with a greater focus on processed food. I can't blame people for the choices they make when those choices are "natural" and economically encouraged, not that I blamed them before. Going from where I was to where I am now, it is shocking to see the difference as I didn't remember it being this way when I resided in the U.S. over two decades ago.
One thing which I can say is so, and this goes in line with all of the processed food that is available, is that it is much easier to eat reduced calorie "junk" in the U.S. There were very, very few sugar-free and reduced or no fat options in the Asian country in which I resided. The only way to have your cake was to actually eat real cake. If you wanted to lose weight and enjoy treats, portion control was the only way to do so. In America, these lower calorie options encourage bigger portions because you believe you can have more and "pay" less for it. This is another part of a culture which focuses on consuming more rather than on focusing on eating smaller amounts.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying people should "eat clean" or toss out all processed food or food that is reduced in calories. I think there is a place for a lot of different foods in the average diet and that includes convenience foods and even chemically altered food to allow people with different focuses in their diet to eat in a manner which suits them. I'm mainly commenting on how the presence of such foods encourages larger portion consumption and a particular dietary path which does not include cooking from scratch. Though people are ultimately "responsible" for what they eat and the market responds to consumer demand for ease and certain tastes, I think it's important to see the dynamic that underlies the food culture in America, and I can see it far more clearly than ever before due to the contrast between it and my former country of residence.