One thing about living in Taiwan as an American is that people here already have a great deal of exposure to American things. As a result, many feel that they have a good understanding of things American, whether they be politics, traditions, dating customs or food. Unfortunately, much like Americans have very one dimensional exposure to, say, Europeans, the Taiwanese media only portrays a certain side of America. As an American who has also lived in Guatemala, I can say it’s downright shocking to see how different my own country, or even the state of California, looks on the television sets of two different countries.
One of the most grating things, is constantly being told I’m fat because “American food is unhealthy”. Sometimes I feel like wringing the necks of my usually well-meaning acquaintances and telling them I was in great shape until moving to Taiwan, and that I ate healthier food back home than I do here. “KFC” is unhealthy, they say. Well, I can agree with that. The KFCs here are certainly a lot less healthy than the ones at home were, though. In KFCs in Colorado, Texas and California, I’ve eaten spinach, red beans and rice, carrots, potatoes, corn, and a variety of healthy foods. That’s not even including the salad bar, either. The fried chicken may not be too healthy, but all the sides were. Here, none of those sides are sold. You can eat fried chicken or fries, and little else. McDonald’s is the same. All of my beloved salad-shakers are gone. True whole-wheat bread isn’t even sold in this town. Likewise, I can’t find water-packed tuna. The grocery store only sells oil-packed tuna. I haven’t seen baked chicken (or any low-fat meat) offered more than a handful of times in the entire time I’ve lived here. Sure, people here don’t weigh as much as back home, but I’m not sure if they’re doing any better in terms of body composition. Barring the capital city, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anybody on this entire island with an “athletic” physique.
I used to tell people here about this stuff, whenever they tried how terrible American food is. I’d tell them how not a damned bit of western food that I saw them eat was healthy and how only the junk food was popular. I told them about the wonders of Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s. I told them how places selling healthy western food here would go out of business, because Chinese people just want white-bread (probably pastries), fried chicken, chips, soda and all the crap, but have no interest in our healthier, more traditional fare. Most people just didn’t believe me. They’d already heard about US food on TV and from all their friends. They “knew”.
I couldn’t see how people could be so blind and stuck in their own ways of thinking… until I went home. I’d forgotten the sesame chicken factor. At every single Chinese restaurant I visited, I was greeted by sesame chicken with so much sugar that it coagulates with a bit of stirring. I had crunchy “Kung-Pao” chicken soaked in so much grease it could give a small rhino heart disease. I had fried tofu sweeter than most deserts. Then it dawned on me. Nobody bothers that much with other cultures’ health foods. We all import the nastiest, most unhealthy stuff we can get our hands on and corrupt the rest of it in that direction quickly as possible. If and when we do eat healthier foods, they’re invariably either unprocessed whole foods, such as fruits, or staples basic to our own cultures, things that we grew up eating. Now, when people tell me how unhealthy “American food” is, I never tell them about the healthy foods I used to eat back home. I just ask them if they’ve ever eaten sesame chicken.