When I embarked on my study abroad semester twelve years ago, I thought I was going to dip my toes into self-reliance before leaving school; I did not, however, expect to gain 12 pounds in less than six months. Since then I’ve become increasingly obsessed with the amount of food I eat while traveling. After moving to California four years ago, this mentality came with me, as I was all too aware of how easy it was to lose track of portion sizes when what used to be a “large” becomes a “normal” portion. I mean, unless I’m gearing up for an all-day hike, do I really need two eggs, two slices of toast, a chunk of hash browns and two generous strips of gravy-drenched chicken fried steak for breakfast?
The growth of food portions in America in the past 50 years is a familiar subject. Starting in the 1970s, the quest for “value” as it relates to food has powered the drive towards offering and consuming more food for less money. When given the choice to “upsize” our fast food meal for an additional 50 cents, we’re being enticed by the seductive logic of “more for less,” neglecting our body’s needs in the process.
Coincidentally (or not), the number of obese people in the United States more than doubled in less than 50 years: where less than 15 percent of Americans were obese in 1960, this grew to 35 percent of the population by 2006. While parallel developments don’t always imply causation, I think it’s safe to say that one of the biggest contributors to the problem of obesity in the U.S. is that everyone is eating and drinking a whole lot more at one sitting compared to their parents’ time, without realizing it.
This is what the New York Health Department is trying to change with its latest ad campaign, designed to bring more awareness to portion sizes and its attendant effects on one’s health. Bold initiatives like the “Go Halfsies” program take it a step further, working to tackle the issue of portion sizes and food waste and hunger in one move. By partnering with restaurants to offer diners the choice to order a half-portion while paying full price, a portion of the proceeds would go towards initiatives to fight hunger while, it is hoped, making a dent in the amount of food thrown out.
While I’m nowhere close to the level of mindfulness that the Blue Cliff monastery brings to its meals, where every meal is an intense experience of food, I do my best. Eating slowly and savoring every bite of a meal certainly helps, and I’ve learned that it’s never a wise idea to peruse a menu when you’re devastatingly hungry. I also make it a point (against everything I’ve been taught about not wasting food) to leave food on the plate or doggy-bag leftovers whenever we eat out. It’s not easy, and sometimes I slip up, but hopefully, between the occasional indulgence and regularly splitting portions with my dining companions, there’s a sweet spot where I’ll be able to have a healthy relationship with my food to eat enough for my needs, enjoy it, and not leave any crumbs for the bin. I’ll keep you posted.
How do you keep track of how much you eat?
About the author: Danielle Tsi grew up in Singapore, a tiny, food-obsessed island on the tip of the Malaysian Peninsula, where every waking minute was spent thinking about what her next meal was going to be. Landing in the United States with her well-traveled Nikon, she turned her lifelong love affair with food into images and words on her blog, Beyond the Plate. When not behind the lens or at the stove, Danielle can be found on her yoga mat perfecting the headstand.