People often ask me about Spanish food: what I like, what I don’t like, what’s weird. There’s plenty of differences, but I often get annoyed at presumptions about America’s supposed terrible eating habits, when that is, of course, a huge generalization.
The lifestyle of Indiana (and many other small towns in the Midwest and elsewhere) was not based around fresh fruits and vegetables in the recent past, and still isn’t for the most part. Yet I hate it when Spanish (or European) people presume they know exactly how and why we eat the way we do. They often attribute it to laziness, an unwillingness to cook the vegetables, which requires a few more skills than sticking something in the microwave. I beg to disagree.
In Spain, there is an abundance of fruterías, places to buy fresh fruits and vegetables at an astonishingly low cost, at least according to my standards. In fact, I can buy €2 of fresh produce here when it would cost me more than $10 in the U.S. Moreover, there are more than 5 (yes, five!) of them within 5 minutes walking distance. It renders me speechless (and thankful) at times. I love walking into them, seeing piles of fresh lettuce, apples, and zucchinis. Such locales really are my paradise and, no, I’m not exaggerating. But in my hometown of Crawfordsville, Indiana, buying fresh fruits and vegetables requires driving at least 10-15 minutes and, honestly, the selection leaves much to be desired. Sure, in Bloomington, where I attended college, there are superb farmers’ markets and local co-ops, but that’s the exception, not the rule. So I find it hard to swallow when Europeans talk about our abysmal eating habits. My students even tell me their favorite foods are not lentil stew or garbazos or even tortilla de patata, but spaghetti, pizza, potato chips, or hamburgers. It doesn’t sound supremely healthy, if you ask me. I don’t doubt many are quick to blame the Americans. Yet while our supposed culture is invading here, the new hip thing in the U.S. is local / organic / diverse.
The thing America has going for it is the diversity. Nowhere else can you eat Ethoipian, Italian, Mexican, Vietnamese, and Moroccan cuisine in the same small town (Bloomington). We regularly eat tacos, pho, and paella. In many parts of the U.S., we are all about the local movement – eating from your region, your home. Without realizing it, many Spaniards are moving away from the local movement. It used to be that was the only way you could eat here. Now, it’s easy to get pineapples from South America or blueberries flown in from halfway around the world.
So what’s my point? Stop generalizing. Take responsibility for your own health and eating habits. Don’t blame the Americans, as though you didn’t have a choice to eat at McDonald’s. I too hate it when I see a KFC in a chic part of Brussels. But I don’t think that griping about it will change anything. Rather, let’s work together as a global community to improve our eating habits.