Friday, 2 July 2010

#21 A nation obsessed.

Clichés and jokes abound about American national obsessions (communism, fast food, sex, coffee, terrible sports), but I think I have hit upon a novel one. Not completely novel, you understand - rather a new, all-encompassing obsession that explains a bunch of little obsessions.

Americans are obsessed with protein. Utterly obsessed.

Everywhere you go, you can add protein to your food. Smoothie and juice bars invariably - and I mean that in the actual, 'only ever' sense of the word, rather than 'quite often' - offer the option of protein powder for a small additional fee. It is impossible to buy a flapjack other than a protein bar. (Actually, they don't know what a flapjack is if you ask for one, so it's doubly tricky.) 'Muscle Milk' high protein drinks, and various competitive products, are advertised everywhere. Soy versions too, in case you prefer to fuck the Amazon whilst consuming a large excess of amino acids. I went into a diner and ordered pancakes a few days ago, and they were high-protein. PANCAKES. The carb-lover's staple. What the fuck is the world coming to?

Whey protein powder has invaded every echelon of shopping - supermarkets, health food stores, pharmacies. And it's given pride of place in window displays. (Why, incidentally? Do people really walk past and wonder if a health food store sells protein, when every other one in America does? And they're bloody ugly, white plastic jars. Why not put some nice dried fruit and nuts in your window, hmmm?)

And, if you don't want to go down the healthy alley, let's not forget 10% of Americans eat in McDonald's every single day. (By which I mean, unbelievably, one in ten Americans will go into a McDonald's every day of their lives - not just that in any one day 10% of Americans will visit. Presumably many more than 10% step under the Golden Arches on any given day, if you count the fair-weather diners.) You can scarcely order a protein-free meal from any of the major hamburger chains.

Now, high protein foods have a legitimate function. If you're a body builder, you need north of 1.5g of protein per kilogram of body mass daily, which is quite a lot. But do you really need that for yoga class? Did Atkins not die and go to sausage heaven a while ago? Why is every American - fat slob who sits in front of the TV all day watching 'Jersey Shore' and wanking furiously, gym bunny SoHo girl who works in fashion and is size -2, lonely librarian who frigs herself with a ruler - in such a desperate need for a nutrient that America's meat-and-dairy-heavy diet so amply provides? Were people dying of kwashiorkor en masse after 'Super Size Me', and before Muscle Milk was launched?

Let's put this in perspective: less than 3% of Americans have insufficient protein in their diet (Fulgoni, 2007). Most of those 8 million people are elderly females. If even 1% of them has tried Muscle Milk, I'll eat my own protein-rich arm.

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