Wednesday, April 27, 2011

As American as apple pie

If you were going to host a foreign family in a typical North American household, in addition to the savoury dishes like hamburgers, pizza and Thanksgiving turkey, you would almost definitely also have to introduce them to a large variety of popular sweet dishes, like apple pie, pumpkin pie, key lime pie, pecan pie, doughnuts, brownies, cheesecake, muffins, banana bread, zucchini bread ... you get the picture.

I don't pretend to know all that much about Asian cuisine.  However, a couple of weeks ago it occurred to me that a major difference between Japanese cuisine and ours is that, as far as I am aware, the Japanese place much less emphasis on sweet goods and desserts than we do. 

Think about eating Japanese food, and what comes to mind?  Sushi, tempura, miso soup, udon noodles, and rice.  There are undoubtedly others, even sweet ones, but Japanese cuisine is known for its savoury umami, rather than its desserts.

This is why I was really intrigued when Dr. Davis pointed out the same thing earlier this week in his blog, together with some impressive health comparisons:
A Japanese male has only 65% of the risk of an American male (despite 40% of Japanese men being smokers), while a Japanese woman has 80% less risk than an American woman. While the U.S. is near the top of the list of nations with highest cardiovascular risk, Japan is the lowest.
No, I'm not suggesting putting grains back into our low carb diet.  Nice try though.

While I definitely recommend that you check out what Dr. Davis has to say, I'd like to spend some more time (yes, I know this is a recurring theme of mine) on our culture of baking here in North America.

We are surrounded by dessert.  Our children eat sugary breakfast cereal, we are socially obliged to offer brownies, biscotti (name your treat) when we have company, we eat ice cream on hot sunday afternoons, coffee and cheesecake after a show... you recognize the picture.

It's extremely hard to say no to sugar, and many people eat it in one form or another in every meal of the day.  One friend of mine had to resort to pretending to have given it up for Lent for people to understand she was serious.

Even many raw foodists and vegans push the sweets, presumably in their (possibly subconscious) efforts to sell the attractiveness of their chosen diet.  Take a look, for example, at the caramel apple pie in the incredibly beautifully presented Raw on $10 a Day (or Less!):

I honestly don't want to sound patronizing about the effort that went into preparing and photographing these beautiful raw dishes.

But I do think it's interesting that while vegan raw foodists aim, by definition, to stay as close to food in its natural state as they can, they still prepare dishes sweetened with agave syrup and substantial quantities of fruit.  This blog is really good about posting the nutritional counts for each of its menus, and they almost invariably add up to more than 200g of sugars every day. 

It's not just this blog, but a number of others that I follow in my reader and on StumbleUpon. The blogosphere is filled with talented amateur cooks and photographers presenting their version of the perfect cupcake, the ultimate kids' party, or the world's best chocolate chip cookie recipe.  They're possibly taking a cue from the cooking shows on TV, bringing a bit of the spotlight into their own kitchens, but it's also reflective of something bigger.

If we're going to tackle our national obesity and diabetes explosion, and the attendant increased risk of cardiovascular disease in a meaningful way, I believe it's vitally important that we start recognizing our societal addiction to sweets and sugar.

And then, let's start saying no. 

We don't have to eat dessert after dinner.
We don't have to serve something sweet when we have friends over for tea or coffee.
We don't have to drink pop at the movies.
We don't have to give our children money for frozen slushies at school on hot days.

Let's learn to enjoy dinner for dinner's sake more often, like the Japanese do.

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