Why is nitrate-free meat so expensive

A food report from the USA

This subjective report highlights the current state of the (over) nutrition situation in the United States

Without getting too bogged down in clich├ęs and prejudices, this brief status report on nutrition, eating culture and the food industry in the USA aims to provide education and entertainment. At the same time, dubious trends are to be described, some of which are known to spill over the Atlantic and are therefore relevant not only in the USA but also beyond.

Fast food

In general, it can be said that fast food is quite cheap in the USA, whereas healthy and balanced food is more expensive than in Germany. You eat out much more often and many people hardly or not at all cook at home. The structure of gastronomy is capitalistically "optimally" organized in huge chains, whereas owner-operated restaurants tend to be the exception.

There are chains for all imaginable types of food, whether Italian pizza and pasta restaurants, traditional Western potato and meat cuisine, Asian or the well-known burger-and-fries fast food. Everything can be found in one-story buildings on the edge of the extensive, straight US streets that run in a checkerboard pattern through the sprawling suburbs.

After trying out popular fast food chains during the 2018 summer vacation, the author can state that McDonald's is just as bad in the USA as it is in Germany. Because in contrast to Burger King, which also has a veggie burger with tomato, lettuce, cucumber and onion on offer in the United States, the fish burger, which the non-meat eater at McDonald's has to resort to, only consists of soggy burger buns, a meatball and Remoulade.

Vegetables with side dishes are apparently only available here for meat eaters. Many local burger restaurants, so-called diner, serve better-tasting burgers in the USA, and now often also in a vegetarian version.

The popular US chain Tacco Bell offers Taccos and Borritos, which are reminiscent of Mexican food culture on the outside, but are composed without typical spices such as cumin and coriander. As a result, the dishes in this chain are rather tasteless - and unfortunately also too cheese-heavy.

Cheese cult

The cheese cult is particularly grueling in US pizza shops. At Pizza Hut and Co., cheese is the dominant ingredient, whitewashing any taste of the other ingredients and drowning in fat. This goes so far that some pizzas - as they have now also been seen in Germany - contain a ring of cheese in the rim.

The cheesy low point in the country is, by the way, the plastic and cheese-flavored spray cheese, which comes in doses similar to the horrible spray cream in Germany. The food of the Long John Silver's chain, which is similar to the German fast food chain Nordsee, is quite tasty, although extremely greasy and deep-fried.


The burger shop Arby's, on the other hand, is particularly negative, making itself unpopular with vegetarians, vegans and pescetarians with advertising slogans such as: "WE HAVE THE MEATS" or "We serve at least eight different meats, and we are proud of every single one".

In addition, all burgers at Arby's are "refined" with bacon (fried pork bacon), as if there had never been a discussion about factory farming, climate change, health deficiencies due to hormone exposure, carcinogenic nitrite or drinking water contamination from meat consumption. In general, the mountains of meat in the USA are significantly higher than in Germany, where the awareness of animal suffering and healthy eating seems to be at least a little more sharpened on average.

According to the non-governmental organization proveg, 10% of the population in Germany now eat vegetarian and 1.6% vegan. In the USA, however, it is only 2% vegetarians and 0.5% vegans.

As an aside, interested readers should refer to the meat calculator, with which the own "footprint" of the impact on animal life and the associated ecological footprint can be calculated.

"Imperial Overstretch"

The all-you-can-eat restaurant "China Buffet" is, like most of the branches of this chain, adjacent to a huge parking lot with a number of one-story shops. The room with a multitude of tables is more reminiscent of an open-plan office than of a restaurant. There are no typical decorations or pictures for Chinese restaurants. You can get full here, including drinks and dessert, for US $ 7.50. The food is ok, but not particularly authentic.

As in many locations in the United States, the ambience looks run-down and has not been renovated for a long time. The "Imperial Overstretch" of a nation that has long lost its glamor of the 1950s due to expensive wars, isolationism and nationalistic arrogance is visible in many places.

This can be seen not only in the cheap buildings from the 1970s for the catering trade, but also in the light of ailing motorway bridges, in which rotting reinforcing steel protrudes from under broken concrete chunks. Or a local public transport system that either doesn't exist at all or is insanely bad.

As in the 19th century, power lines run on wooden stakes in most parts of the country and the roads are mostly in a condition that car repair shops and tire dealers should be happy about.

Organic food and hipster consumption lifestyle

In addition to fast food, there is also organic food, especially in the cities of the country. Organically produced food is even less normal in the USA than in Germany, where even more unecological drugstore chains such as Rossmann have been offering a large range of organic food for years.

In the USA, the trend towards organic food is more closely linked than in Germany with lifestyle consumption, with chic magazines from young, dynamic hipsters or alternative city dwellers with plaid shirts. The focus is more on the lifestyle of educated urban elites - with their desire for a long and healthy life, and less a political and ideological U-turn for agriculture and sustainable management in the interests of nature.

A popular hipster chain in this sense is the overpriced "Whole Foods Market", an Amazon company that in principle emulates the US Aldi company Trader Joe's, but is more elitist and more expensive. Of course, many organic buyers in Germany also have a good income, but, as I said, organic food has become much more normal in this country in recent years than it would tear the alternative circle of friends off the stool as status symbols.

"Without genetic technology"

In the course of the organic trend in the USA, products with the "Non-GMO" label have increasingly come onto the market. This means "without genetic engineering". The logo is important for consumers because the USA does not have a state-required declaration requirement for genetically modified ingredients in food.

Interestingly, there are a particularly large number of items with such a label at the stores mentioned and the US Aldi (which now has around 1,750 branches). The chain uses the advantage of a more enlightened buyer base on the other side of the Atlantic as an advantage for its own image in the USA.

It must be mentioned that a lot of fruit, vegetables and grains as well as almost all corn products in the country are genetically modified. Since maize, even in its gene variant, is an extremely universal food (as a substitute for sugar, starch, grain, etc.), genetically modified raw materials are found in almost all products.

Megatrend "water"

In addition to the rather small trend of urban elites to reject genetic engineering, the Europeanizing "megatrend" of water as a drink, which has been the main drink for most people in Germany for years, has been developed in the USA for several years.

However, water is usually not drunk as "natural mineral water" with carbon dioxide, as in Germany, but almost always "still" and / or flavored. In addition, all sorts of lifestyle waters can be found on the US market, jazzed up as "Smart Water" or "Purified Water". In principle, this means that, on the one hand, distilled water is drunk - or distilled water that has subsequently been artificially added minerals.

Allegedly, the former is said to be particularly pure and the latter to be particularly beneficial to health. Ordinary water would obviously be too easy and as a young dynamic person in the USA you like to carry the drink around 12 hours a day as a kind of status symbol in large drinking cups.

After all, this trend is a small step forward compared to the traditionally completely excessive consumption of lemonades and colas in the country. The tap water also usually tastes so strongly of chlorine that Central Europeans can hardly get it down.

Sugar, sweetener, fat

Many Americans are well aware that they eat poorly. In many cases, however, this does not lead to a more balanced diet, but to the formation of myths, in the course of which one acquires other unhealthy habits.

These other myths include the fear of death about sugar, which would be harmless in moderation, but is generally considered a carbohydrate-heavy fat maker and which is often replaced by sweet-tasting chemicals. It is therefore not helpful that many drinks in the USA are far too sweet and often too strongly flavored.

And while this fear is avoided, there are significant amounts of sugar in almost all foods, even where it doesn't belong at all. Not only in ready-made tomato sauces or ketchup, as in Germany, but also in bread or bagels.

Sugar is not contained here in its natural composition of fructose and glucose, but mostly in the form of so-called "high fructose corn syrup" with an unnaturally high content of fructose. In the past, the syrup had already led to upheavals between Mexico and the USA for reasons of health policy.

In the Motel Red Roof Inn (with a mouse-gray roof), where some guests pray at the breakfast buffet before eating, there are waffles that guests can prepare themselves. The product "Waffle Grid Conditioner" from Heartland Waffles is used as the frying fat to be sprayed on the waffle iron.

To make it clear what kind of crazy products are common as food in the USA, the following table lists the ingredients of the product according to the order on the packaging with an explanation:

ingredient What it is about
silicone A chemically produced substitute fat, which is normally used for machines and which may only be added in small quantities to food in Europe in order to prevent foaming. The additive is also called E900 by us and can be added to frying oils or jams up to 10 milligrams per kilo. This US product contains silicon in significantly larger quantities. Silicones in frying fats multiply the acrylamide content that can result from heating.
Polysorbate 80 Chemically produced food additive (E433) that is approved as an emulsifier for food. In animal experiments with mice, the substance was partially carcinogenic and led to digestive problems.
Propylene glycol A substance made from petroleum that is also used as a humectant in cigarettes. The substance irritates the respiratory tract and is viewed as a health hazard overall - but also as potentially carcinogenic.

Ethyl and Propyl Parabens Parabens are chemically produced cosmetic preservatives that are also added to food in the United States. Parabens are hormonally effective and therefore problematic. The group of these substances is generally considered to be harmful to health, possibly carcinogenic and is therefore very controversial.
Sodium Lauryl Sulphate ("Sodium Lauryl Sulphate")
A soap-like, chemically produced substance that is normally found in cosmetics such as shampoos, cleaning agents or ointments. It can lead to inflammation in the mouth or trigger allergies and is therefore very controversial, especially in cosmetics.

The fact that a product like the Waffle Grid Conditioner is even on the market with only one natural ingredient (water) shows that there is still a great need for social education and a rethinking in the population in the direction of an ecological and naturally healthy diet gives. Such a product with these harmful ingredients would certainly not sell well or not at all on the German market.

The medication machine

The use of calorie-free chemicals like silicones appears to be a technocratic response to over-fatness in the US - a solution which, in turn, is highly questionable. One fluctuates between the extremes of such products, completely fat-free (and tasteless) milk - and pizza, consisting of 50% oil and cheese.

In addition to this example, other critical approaches to diet can be observed in the United States. In the aforementioned Motel Red Roof Inn, for example, there is a medication machine in the middle of the hallway that is also accessible to children. Ranitidine and antacid to reduce heartburn are available for free in this vending machine - for example, to combat the symptoms after you have eaten too much and too greasy again.

The vending machine also contains the pain relievers ibuprofen and paracetamol. Of particular interest is the drug Midol, which was supposed to be used against menstrual pain, but is illegally misused by many people in the USA to suppress appetite.

Artificial or natural

Maple syrup, a product that can only be bought in its natural form in Germany, is consumed in many households in the USA in artificially adulterated variants. And that, although pancakes for breakfast are strongly anchored in the national culture and one could expect from local specialties that one has a certain quality awareness at least in relation to them.

A "Smucker's" brand syrup provided for breakfast waffles at the Red Roof Inn is "Sugar Free", as it is big and wide on the front of the plastic bottle: an indication of how close to the natural product this syrup can be. The somewhat more authentic alternative from the "Lyons" brand also does not contain maple syrup, but instead contains a lot of corn syrup and the unhealthy preservative benzoic acid ("Sodium Benzoate")

as well as artificial flavors and sodium hexametaphosphate. While real maple syrup has been increasingly popular in stores in the United States for a few years now, most syrups sold are still made from corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, and a variety of artificial flavors and colors.

The yoghurt on the buffet next to the waffles consists of unnatural, fat-free yoghurt made from modified starch, a little real fruit, but then again the artificial sweetener acesulfame and artificial vitamins and gelatine (kosher, i.e. from beef).

The bad habit against vegetarians of patching gelatine into the most unlikely products also exists in Germany, for example with various yoghurt or quark products or some fresh cheeses.

bread and cheese

Bread and cheese in the US have one thing in common. There is an extremely large selection of variants, which on closer inspection is limited to the superficial variety of lettering and advertising promises on the plastic packaging.

Whether "Swiss Cheese", Cheddar or Gouda. They all taste almost the same. It is particularly noticeable with "Swiss" cheese that it does not have a strong taste at all. Most cheeses can be bought packaged in slices - and cheese counters are very rare.

In the fast food restaurants, as in this country, unhealthy as well as inferior processed cheese are widespread and in advertisements they advertise an alleged quality cheese because it contains over 51% real cheese.

In principle, 90% of all bread to be bought in the USA is what is known in Germany as toast bread. In other words, more or less wobbly, spongy industrial breads that can be squeezed into a tenth of their packaging volume under slight pressure. Real bread with a crust or even freshly baked bread can only be found in specialty shops, in the few organic markets in the country, at Aldi or in hipster shops.

The list of ingredients on the "bread" packaging is usually much longer than in this country and 35 ingredients in normal bread are not uncommon. The author counted 55 ingredients in a raspberry cheese cake, whereas a comparable industrial product from Germany would have around 15-20 ingredients.

One of the reasons for this is that the products do not even contain flour in its pure form, but rather is usually enriched with niacin and other additives. In addition, there are usually all kinds of flavorings, sugars and chemical preservatives in products in which they are completely unnecessary.

Packaging and supersizing

The Americans are among the front runners in the production of household waste worldwide. In 2014 it was 738 kilos per capita and year of household waste. In Germany it was at least 627 kilos, so not much better.

A closer look reveals that in the country's fast food chains, for example, most drinks and burgers are still served in styrofoam, after the environmentally harmful material has been banned from the catering trade in Germany for decades.

In this respect, the international statistics on household waste are somewhat undifferentiated, because it depends not only on how many kilos of average people produce per year, but also on how the various types of waste and materials are made up. And styrofoam is particularly harmful to the environment.

In the USA, people also love aluminum cans for beverages, which, in contrast to a large proportion of beverage cans in Germany, are not made of a mixture of tinplate and aluminum, but instead are made of 100% aluminum. Incidentally, the can is so popular in the country that there are aluminum versions in bottle form in some shops. On the packaging of the cans, something like "100% recyclable aluminum" is usually written, a lie.

Yes, the metal is in fact too precious to be dumped in the US too. It should be taken into account that the dissolving of the metal in electrolysis tanks is extremely energy-intensive and that the tin can can never keep up with returnable bottles in terms of its energy balance. There are no returnable bottles at all in the USA. When glass bottles are sold, they are disposable bottles; but cans are much more popular.

Everything that is great

In addition to the type of packaging, it is particularly noticeable that almost all US articles come in insane packaging sizes. This is less due to the higher average number of children per family, but more to the general mentality. The Americans apparently love everything that is big. Perhaps status considerations play a role.

Not only the packaging, but also the portion sizes in restaurants are significantly larger than in Central Europe. And so it can turn out to be a challenge for average hungry Europeans to empty the smallest milkshake of a fast food chain with two people. Not to mention the beverage cups in the "big" category, which hold over a liter. Even at system cafes like Starbucks, where there are giant cups for coffee. Who can drink something like that ?!

The cult of size had already been explicitly criticized in 2004 by the documentary "Supersize Me".

To make matters worse, the calorie count and ingredient information on food packaging is particularly misleading in the United States. The manufacturer defines so-called "portion sizes" such as "a handful of chips" and a number of calories is given.

Since the number of calories per 100 grams is not given in the USA in addition to the portion size, as is the case in Germany, the different foods cannot be compared and the information is largely meaningless.

So it's no wonder that a third of the US population (33%) is severely overweight today. So overweight that it has morbid effects on health (in Germany, by the way, it is at least 20 percent).

Not surprisingly, the average life expectancy in the United States is lower than you might think. At 78.9 years of age, the country is only 35th in the world rankings.

That is about half a year less than in neighboring communist and poor Cuba and 1.6 years less than in Germany. In addition to food, there are of course other influencing factors such as social injustice, a poor health system and the proliferation of gun ownership in the country.

And what does that have to do with me?

Much. Because most of the trends and lack of culture described in this article can also be found in a weaker form on German plates, in European kitchens and restaurants. The largely globalized food industry knows how to respond to national markets, to offer less or more sweet or colored products.

As many Germans are unaware of, green genetic engineering is also at least indirectly widespread in our diet. This is because the meat industry feeds cheap world market soy, especially for pigs. And this comes from Brazil, for example, and is grown in many cases on the areas of former tropical forests with the use of plenty of glyphosate.

Overall, awareness of food and healthy eating is higher in Germany than in the USA, which is certainly also related to a better level of education among the population, green politics and a capable eco-NGO scene.

In addition, however, with the fact that the media are less dominated by transnational corporations, there are in some cases good public law sources of information and overall reports are somewhat more differentiated, diverse and international than is the case in the United States.

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