Supersize We: How portion sizes are correlated with our gluttony By: Kirk Decker “Gluttony is an emotional escape, a sign something is eating us. ” – Peter De Vries As I wander through the labyrinth of my local grocery store, I cannot help but notice how things have changed. Metal carts overflowing with food and the once prevalent “market” section is now gleaming with the reflection of glass doors and the glow of brightly colored boxes, frozen meals ready for consumption. It was not always this way. I can still remember when I would travel to the store with my mother, help pick ripe fruit and vegetables for the family.
This memory now clouded with the current sight of a child sitting in a cart grazing on fried potato crisps as his mother decides whether to buy the regular or the value sized bag. When did this change occur? When did we all of a sudden choose the premade package of “gourmet” frozen dinners rather than making a simple pasta dish for the family? With this abrupt change in our diets also came the inevitable change in portions provided by the grotesquely large food companies. And now with my home town of Chicago being ranked in the top ten most obese cities in America, it is time we discover where we went wrong.
It is not new to us as Americans to see how our beloved country has gone from glorious to gluttonous. The amount of food that we consume has dramatically increased in the past thirty years and it is continuously on the rise. In reports by the U. S. Census Bureau, the per capita consumption of major food commodities has grown considerably. Since 1970, the amount of poultry consumed has risen from 40. 8 pounds to 72. 2 pounds per capita per year in 2006. The total fat content consumed has also risen from 56. 1 pounds to 78. 6. And the big winner, high fructose corn syrup, has amplified from 19 pounds in 1970 to a staggering 62. pounds in 2000! Many of us as Americans have seen this transformation happening around us and have decided to take a stand. This abrupt cultural awareness started with a simple documentary produced by Morgan Spurlock called, “Supersize Me. ” In this documentary, Spurlock ate solely at McDonalds for thirty days straight to see what kind of implications it would have on his health. The outcome of Spurlock’s new diet shocked his doctors and millions of viewers. Spurlock gained 24 ? pounds, had a cholesterol level of 230, and was showing signs of liver failure due to excessive amount of fat accumulation.
I decided to go on a similar adventure to discover why we have changed our diets and how portion sizes have grown to what they are today. I wanted to see where, in my life, have things changed and how they may be affecting others. I began my adventure at my old high school located in a south suburb of Chicago. I remember when I would stand in the endless line of students awaiting the selection of sustenance that was prepared by our lunch “Chef” Mrs. Giza. She stood five and a half feet tall, her alabaster hair was motionless in the weave of her hairnet and her smile was clearly visible from every table in the lunch room.
She has been working for the school for over twenty years as a lunch lady and she always managed to bring a smile to our faces with her jokes and “outlandish” sense of humor. I contacted Mrs. Giza with the hopes that she could shed some light on how student’s diets have changed over the years. Mrs. Giza explains, “About ten years ago, I noticed a real change in the diets of the students. For one thing, More students were buying their lunches, previously we only had to staff three lunch employees and we hired two more in one year to make up for the increase in lunches sold.
Additionally, the school decided to employ the services of a school meal provider. It made our job much easier but the food that we sold was obviously not healthy for the students. The pizzas were larger and the number one food that I had a problem with was the Texas Burger. A large patty of beef covered in barbeque sauce and topped with fried onions and cheddar cheese. This was our Thursday special and I think almost every student waited in line for it. ” I vividly remember the Texas Burger and let me tell you, it tasted like heaven on a bun.
But now I have a different perspective because from my recollection I ate quite healthy in high school. Wait, did I? Yea I ate the Texas Burger every Thursday, but I stayed healthy and the chicken tenders did not seem that bad. It’s quite obvious now that I did not know or care enough about what I consumed because I lacked experience and honestly looked for something good to eat. I advise you to look back at your high school years. What did you eat? Did your school have a similar menu or perhaps a similar provider for your monstrous mid-day meal?
It seems as if our guardians forced us into this new era of diets when we were young. Just as the perceptions of my diet misled me back in high school, I believe this misperception of what is consumed has influenced us to eat much more than we believe we are. I need to take this adventure to another level. With the knowledge I have gained from my former lunch lady, I am interested to explore how the size of portions have changed our perceptions. I know from personal experiences of reading the nutritional information on packages of food and thinking to myself, “THERE IS NO WAY THIS IS TWO SERVINGS. It seems as if half of the food I consume turns out to be actually somewhere around twice of what I should be eating. But come on, there is no way that one muffin is two and a half servings. Never have I seen a person share a muffin with a friend, that is just absurd. As I peer into my cupboard, I immediately notice the tin cans of soup that supposedly contain over two servings. Is this a recent phenomenon or is this the way it has always been? Suddenly an imaginary light appears at the summit of my head, accompanied by an idea. I need to mobilize. I quickly gather a few items from my pantry and throw them carelessly into my book bag.
I make my way down the road en route to downtown Naperville, a large suburb west of Chicago. I decide to stand on the corner near a large book store because there is ample pedestrian traffic. I ask passing people to help me in a quick survey. My plan was to simply ask the people what they believe the portion size of certain foods would be. Then, I reveal the actual portion sizes listed on the back and log their reactions. Of the twenty-three individuals who stopped to participate, only two correctly estimated or came incredibly close to the actual portion size listed on the package.
A twenty year old college student from Lewis University named Jenny agreed to stop and take part in my survey. To begin, I held a bag of Lays Original potato chips and asked her, “how many chips do you think make up one serving. ” She immediately scans me as if I am performing a magic trick on her. She responds, “I am kinda confused, can I guess how many servings are in the bag? ” I agree and she proceeds to continue her cerebration. She finally develops her estimate, “four”. As I turn the bag to reveal the nutritional value, her face shows a great amount of disbelief, as if she witnessed something paranormal.
The nutritional value reads, “12 servings per container. ” She claimed that at times she has finished a bag to herself and still wanted more. I asked her if she thought that the recommended portion size was too low, or the portion sizes that we eat are too large. Her answer surprised me a bit. Jenny said, “For one, the recommended portion size is way too small, but it is not the portion sizes of the bags that is the problem. I think the problem was that the bag itself is too big so we do not realize how much of the bag we are actually eating. This caught my attention because it gave me a new perspective about how we eat and how much we eat. Could it be that we just do not realize how much we are eating? Ask yourself the question I asked Jenny. Do you think it is because we do not realize how much we are eating? I suggest you take a minute out of your day to look at what you eat and compare it to the recommended serving size posted in the nutritional facts. Gluttony is interesting because all of us are guilty of it from time to time, but are we committing this travesty more often than we believe we are?
In the past few decades our country has seen some profound changes. Technology has grown so much that now we are all linked to one another by a multitude of devices from cell phones, to email, to social media. The technology that businesses are using has also developed into a vast network of data. Companies can track what you buy, what you wear, what you eat, and who your favorite celebrity is. These changes have altered the way we are being marketed to and how companies choose to sell to us. In the end, it all comes down to the bottom line for almost every company: grow, grow, and grow.
The larger the company is, the happier investors are. So why is it that as corporations grow it seems that our waistlines follow? Figure 1 In a study posted in the American Journal of Public Health, Dr. Lisa Young develops evidence that Americans’ portion sizes have been increasing with little regard for the FDA and USDA’s recommended sustenance intake. Dr. Young states, “The marketplace portions of food have increased significantly since the 1970’s and exceed federal standards for dietary guidance and food labels. This trend can be attributed to multiple causes, most of them economic. Young goes on the explain that marketing has become more concentrated and that Americans are constantly looking for “the most bang for their buck”. In the past thirty years or so, food chains and restaurants have introduced more and more large portion meal choices. These introductions can be effortlessly evident when analyzing the sizes of McDonald’s fries. In 1970, McDonalds had only one size of fry, this is now considered small. Today’s large weighs the same as the 1998 “supersize”, and today’s “supersize” is an ounce larger than it was in 2001.
These portion size increases are across the board with almost every food establishment as shown in Figure 1. According to MensHealth. com, Chicago is currently ranked number nine on the list for the most obese cities in America. How did my beloved home town snag a spot on this corpulent list? As Dr. Young explained in her research, food companies are increasing their portion sizes to market better to consumers. With the majority of these companies being chain restaurants and franchises. Do Chicagoans have a different diet when compared to other large cities or are we just simply more gluttonous?
An average Chicagoan eats 113 slices of pizza a year, which comes out to about 56. 5 pounds, according to a recent article posted on Theweek. com. Compare that to the average American who eats 46 slices of pizza a year totaling 23 pounds of pies. In fact, the next city behind Chicago is New York with a consumption of 76 slices. Chicago is known for having some of the most delicious food. From their famous pizza to their endless styles of sausage, Chicago has a plethora of high calorie foods. Well, it seems quite obvious now where we have gone wrong… EVERYWHERE!
As children, we are fed “economical” high calorie foods. As we grow into adulthood, it is hard to find any remnants of a sensible portion size in our kitchen cupboards. We are even targeted by large food companies to eat larger portions at a lower cost. The age of home cooking seems to be vanishing as we invest millions of dollars on premade meals and quick fixins’. With the growth of our portion sizes, we as Americans have loosened our belts and accepted the change. Now it is time to open our eyes and realize what we have become: a culture addicted to gluttony.
Sources Listed below, by page, are the people and sources that helped me formulate this piece in its entirety. This piece benefitted greatly from interviews and other types of research that allowed me to bring an interdisciplinary view to this topic. Page 1: The United States Census Bureau offered many forms of data which I found useful. I used the following set of data in particular: “Per Capita Consumption of Major Food Commodities: 1980 to 2009. ” Census Bureau. United States Census Bureau, 2012. Web. 11 Feb. 2012. <http://www. census. gov>. Page 2:
The movie Super Size Me (2004) offered a basis for my initial research: Super Size Me. Dir. Morgan Spurlock. Perf. Morgan Spurlock. Kathbur Pictures, 2004. DVD. Page 3: An interview with Mrs. Karen Giza was extremely enlightening and offered great insight into children’s diets that most people are unaware of: Giza, Karen. “Children’s Diets in School. ” Personal interview. 9 Feb. 2012. Page 4: I employed the use of a in person street survey to gather information about how my peers view their portion sizes. I stood on the corner of two main streets in downtown Naperville, Illinois.
Of the few dozen individuals I was able to talk to, a young girl named Jenny McBride gave me the most useful information: Mcbride, Jenny. “Naperville Street Survey. ” Personal interview. 17 Feb. 2012. Page 6: An article posted in the American Journal of Public Health by Dr. Lisa Young gave me some concrete evidence that supported my assumptions: Lisa R. Young and Marion Nestle . The Contribution of Expanding Portion Sizes to the US Obesity Epidemic. American Journal of Public Health: February 2002, Vol. 92, No. 2, pp. 246-249. ( March 1, 2012) Page 7:
A short post on MensHealth. com listed the top 25 most obese cities in America. Of these, Chicago was ranked number nine on the list: Coletti, Jaclyn. “America’s Fattest Cities. ” Men’s Health Metrogrades. Mens Health, 2010. Web. 1 Mar. 2012. <http://www. menshealth. com/fattestcities2010/>. An article posted on Theweek. com showed some interesting statistics about America’s obsession with pizza. This article had lists of stats from a broad perspective and also many that offered a more concentrated view on the subject: “America’s Pizza Obsession: By the Numbers. The Week. 10 June 2011. Web. 11 Mar. 2012. <http://theweek. com/article/index/216550/americas-pizza-obsession-by-the-numbers>. ——————————————– [ 1 ]. This documentary was not the only contributor to the recent cultural awareness of Americans diets, but it did spark quite a bit of controversy and is shown in schools across the nation. There is no documented information to show if this has changed the diets of Americans but it does provide an interesting look at what we eat and how it can affect our lives.