Culture Shock

Immediately, when I think of food, I think of family and sitting around a dinner table with my parents sharing stories from our day. I was raised that at dinner you have a balanced plate of protein, starch, and vegetables. I can honestly say that type of dinner has stuck with me to this day. Even in college, I take the time to have a starch, vegetable, and protein at every dinner. My view of food may be completely different than yours, as it should be. We all come from different walks of life. However, there are some extreme differences that can be seen country to country.

This week, I interviewed two students on campus. They have been to different countries all over the world and experienced life in those countries. Chantal Richards, journalism major at Chico State, lived in South Africa for 15 years and has lived in the America for the last 8 years. When I asked her how she thought American’s viewed food, she explained that in her eyes they take for granted all the food they have. They waste so much more food than what she is used to. When she first got here, she noticed, “that the portions were huge and would take up the entire plate. Where I grew up, it was a quarter of the size of an American meal, and you would also get a lot more nutrition per plate.” In South Africa, food is a staple that not everyone is so lucky to have. Food is generally cherished when you have it. Chantal explained, “In South Africa, you did not waste food. You ate what was on your plate.” There was starvation everywhere, so when you did have food, you appreciated it. The United States is not so afraid of starvation. It is one of the most prosperous countries in the world when it comes to food. However, this does not translate in the amounts of food they waste. 21% of the US’s waste comes from food (“U.S. Environmental Protection Agency”). That number is very difficult for me to wrap my head around. But then I really think about it. Those leftovers I threw away because maybe it doesn’t taste as good reheated. The fruit I let spoil. The last bit of pasta that didn’t look like it could make a full meal. That is all food that we could have saved and consumed. Now if that is just my actions, think of the 313.9 million people in the US that might be doing similar things. It’s unbelievable how much as a country we waste simply because we know we can just get more.

The United States differs with other countries also on how meal times are viewed. Mary Swearinger, anthropology major at Chico State, has spent a month each in Antigua and Malta. Antigua is a small island in the West Indies and Malta is an island in the Mediterranean. While there, she did anthropological work and spent a lot of time absorbing the culture. When I asked about how the Maltese view food, she stated, “it’s how they socialize and express their creativity.” She explained that they have a festival of food called Festa. It can last up to 3 days. It is one giant potluck with music, fireworks, and marching bands. But the food is the spotlight of the entire event. It shows how these people value food and how it can bring a large group of people together. While in Malta, she discovered that a lot of things were done over food. At night, everyone in the family would attend dinner. If you were not at dinner, you did not eat.  Dinner was where they socialized and bonded as a family. I feel like that is something that the average American family has lost. We as a culture are always on the go, or busy with other things. Instead of making time to sit down as a family, we pick up fast food, microwave dinners, or skip a meal. However if we make meals, like dinner, into an event that you attend and cook as a family, we would make a lot better decision about what we eat. Most families would take the time to plan out the meal, rather than picking something easy and not as nutritious.

While talking to both of these women, they both mentioned something interesting. Compared to other countries, our protein portion of a meal is quite large. In the US, the protein is usually the star of a meal. In other countries, the majority of the meal is bread or vegetables, while the protein portion is the smallest. I find this funny because on a food pyramid, protein is a rather small portion of your daily diet. I do think that as a country, America should try to lower the amount of meat they eat. But I believe that will be very difficult. The American culture is surrounded by meat. Barbeques for example, a common American tradition is an event where people gather to grill meat. I myself love barbequing, but I am starting to realize it shouldn’t be the focus of the entire meal. Things like wine and starches shouldn’t have to complement the meal. The protein should complement them.

While all of these countries are different, the thing in common is that we all need to eat food. How we eat it and what we eat is never going to be the same. But we can learn from each other and grow as a civilization from it. I hope you will take this all into consideration and maybe improve some of your habits at your next meal.

Work Citation

“Reducing Food Waste for Businesses.” U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Web. 19 Sep. 2013. <;.


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