Heaping Helpings

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It's summer, and San Francisco is filled with tourists. In line for coffee, I got to chatting with a visitor from Europe. I asked him what he found surprising about the United States.

The food, he told me.

Because it's so good, I asked, or because it's so bad?

No, he answered, because it's so much. Visiting the Midwest, he'd been shocked by portions in restaurants. 32-ounce steaks, 20 silver dollar pancakes, two-pound burritos. One meal could feed a family of four in his country, he told me. He had started ordering from the children's menu.

Listening, I quickly changed my order from a 31-oz Trenta to a 12-oz Grande. But looking around, I decided he had a point. With statistics showing half of Americans overweight, and 30% obese, maybe we are all stuffing ourselves silly. But if we're addicts to huge portions, restaurants are the enablers. A study analyzed 123 menu items from restaurants and found some contained more calories than the total daily amount for an adult.


America is the land of bigger is better. We love huge helpings. And restaurants are happy to sell it. The names alone are gluttonous: supersize, Triple Triple Triple Burgers, mega-size ice cream sundaes, Big Gulp.

A diner near Sacramento features a dish of a, yes, five- pound hot dog, If you're still hungry, it comes with a side of one pound of fries. Not to mention those all-you-can-eat buffets. Ours must be one of the few nations with actual eating contests, where competitors win by gorging the most pies or hot dogs.

I'm not the most careful eater, and I've been digesting that traveler's observations. Now I'm making an effort to eat not only better, but to eat less. Cooking smaller portions, bringing home half of restaurant meals, not eating because I'm bored or because it looks good, though I'm not hungry.

So a supersize thank you to that unknown tourist who pointed it out. He's probably back in his country by now, where he can he can dine out and his meal won't be served on a plate the size of a pizza pan.

Hmmm - pizza - now that sounds good.

With a Perspective, I'm Richard Swerdlow.

Richard Swerdlow teaches in the San Francisco Unified School District.