Food in the U.S.
Varied and Interesting Cuisine – but Watch the Junk Food!
American’s tend to place a high level of importance on accessing food that’s convenient and offers a lot of choices. The average American family spends $7,023 on food each year and around $3,008 of that includes food not prepared in the home. There’s a huge range of places to buy prepared food, especially in larger cities. These might include anything from bistros and street food to fast food and chain food stores and a range of restaurants with different dining styles and menu choices.
Eating out is a big part of American culture. For some Europeans who are used to only visiting restaurants on special occasions this can feel a little unusual, but in most cities and many other urban centers, there is a wide range of restaurants and eateries to cater for you at mealtimes.
When it comes to eating in restaurants there are, generally speaking, a few small differences. Portion sizes tend to be larger on the whole in the U.S., so be aware that you might want to split an order in some cases.
When it comes to the pace of dining out, restaurants in America tend to make it a speedy affair. Waiting staff will be attentive and friendly and your plates will often be cleared as soon as each person has finished. The check (your bill) will come as soon as you finish, rather than you asking for it. In lots of eateries, you can buy a drink and get as many refills as you would like as part of the price.
Many waiting staff in America rely partly or almost entirely on tips to make up low basic wages. Although many states have a minimum wage, for tipped employees the Federal government sets it at only $2.13 per hour. That’s why it’s customary for you to leave a tip of between 15-25% of your bill. For higher-end restaurants, the expectation is often that you tip more towards 25%. In some restaurants, gratuity will already be added, especially in tourist areas where foreigners might not be aware of tipping culture.
When it comes to drinking in bars a tip of around $1 per drink is normal if you buy at the bar, or a 10% tip if you have table service.
If you are buying takeout coffee or food from an over-the-counter establishment then tips are not expected.
In the U.S. supermarkets are common, with nearly 40,000 supermarkets bringing in over $612 billion in 2017. Produce is normally varied with lots of choices in fruit, vegetables, and meat, as well as department-store style goods like clothing and electrical equipment.
Fast food and take-out food is also a large part of American culture, with almost 40% of Americans eating some kind of fast food on any given day. One of the reasons for this is convenience – there often tends to be a culture in the U.S. of “eating on the go” – and another is the relative cheapness of fast food (combo deals often cost between $4-7). A massive 30% of Americans also regularly eat breakfast outside of the home.
There is a huge range of fast food chains, including Subway and McDonalds which account for 18.5% and 11.3% of all fast food chains in America respectively. Although these and other types of fast food are relatively cheap and easy to access in many areas, the abundance of food that’s high in fat, salt and sugar has taken its toll on American health.
32% of American’s are now obese and two out of three American’s are overweight. Childhood obesity has also increased to 25% of youngsters under the age of 19. One Green Planet predicts that in less than 10 years 75% of adult Americans will be overweight. The popularity of soda (fizzy drinks) and snacks, as well as fast food, adds to the problem.
These are alarming statistics for the population in the U.S. as well as those considering relocating there. Luckily, public awareness of the health risks associated with convenience food and obesity is on the increase, and there are growing movements and companies aiming to educate people about healthier eating and produce healthier food.
Consumption of organic food is on the increase, standing at 5% currently, and more companies are offering healthier options. Buying good quality groceries and cooking at home is one way to ensure that you don’t fall into the trap of eating portions that are too large or not nutritionally beneficial.
Although the U.S. is famous for fast food and sugary, sweet snacks, there is also a wealth of local and regional dishes that are popular in different states. For example, steaks meals are popular in Texas and the Midwest, and Cajun Food, inspired by French cuisine, is popular in areas such as Louisiana. The South is famous for its “Soul Food” – a blend of food with Native American and African American influences, including fried chicken, grits, yams, and black eyed peas and macaroni cheese.
Mexican food is popular in most states with tacos and burritos easily available. Also popular is Chinese and Japanese food, especially in larger cities. In other areas of the country such as California, low-fat and raw food diets are popular with a variety of fresh, local and seasonal ingredients.
These are just a handful of the choices of regional food available in different parts of the country, there are many more. Additionally, many other cities and states have dishes and specialties that are specific to their much smaller area. It’s always worth asking the locals about these dishes when you are traveling to discover local food specialties.
In the U.S. whether you are taxed on food and drink will vary from state to state. You might have a state where there is no tax on foodstuffs at all, but a tax on alcoholic beverages. In other states, you might be taxed on food eaten in a restaurant.
Alcohol is popular in the U.S with over 73% of adults saying they drink alcohol. A large proportion of Americans (42%) say they prefer to drink beer rather than wine or liquor.
You have to be 21 to drink or purchase alcohol in all states however in some cases there are allowances for people under the age of 21 drinking small amounts for religious reasons or with family or a spouse in private. These rules vary from state to state but it is certainly not acceptable for someone under the age of 21 to drink at a restaurant with family for example.
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