Sunday, October 9, 2011


Every now and again I get into a discussion with my sister or mother about the relative benefits of socialism (the Netherlands) versus the insane clown posse that is the US at this moment. It is a peculiarity of the Dutch that, while a lot of things are regulated (i.e., setting out your trash), because everybody does them at the same time, it doesn't feel like it's regulated. The flippant part of me says, "It's the hive mind at work," but on the other hand it's probably the main reason why the Dutch stand for as many regulations as they do.

Something that is common in Europe and the rest of the world, then, is to regulate the advertisements directed at kids, most especially for unhealthy foods. It seems like a common-sensical health measure: the less kids want sugary/fatty/salty foods, the less they'll eat, and the healthier they are. This is not the case in the US, as the film makes clear: and consequently kids grow up with an emotional attachment to a particular brand, basically guaranteeing a customer for life.

In the Netherlands, then, most food ads are geared at adults, and feature relatively healthy food: stamppot met worst, soups, or pasta. TV spots for foods like sweet breakfast cereal are nonexistent--the sole exception is the Nutella spot, but I don't think I've ever encountered a Dutch breakfast spread that included Nutella. It seems to be eaten at every other time of day except breakfast....And of course, you have McDonald's and Burger King ads. But I don't think you could escape those, unless you moved to Patagonia.

The ubiquity of tall skinny Dutch people would seem to indicate that these measures work. But on the other hand, Dutch food culture is extremely zuinig: breakfast is a slice or two of bread-and-something, with coffee, or a small cup of milk or juice. Lunch is a sandwich, and maybe a cup of soup if you're feeling very decadent. More typically, it's a sandwich with an apple or an orange. Dinner will include a starch and a protein and a vegetable--there may be a glass of wine or a beer, but dessert isn't typical.

So, which is the deciding factor in the battle against the bulge in the Netherlands? Culture, or law? It's hard to say, really. But it's easy--a little too easy, so easy I don't really believe it myself--to point at the US and say that that's what happens to people when they have neither.


  1. What you trying to compare is benefits of socialism->communism vs. freedom of America.
    While even in the Netherlands "Burger king" is very popular and traditional food, i.e. chips with mayonnaise.. It did not start with advertisement, google for “potato eaters” painting.
    But then, if you look elsewhere in western Europe, like the UK – their do have more overweight kids than in the USA. It is coming too.
    The other thing – the Dutch tend to ride the bicycles a lot – the petrol is extremely expensive and people are really pinching pennies. So, i would say it is not only freedom of choice, but rather tough economic environment. Healthy – yes. Happy?....

  2. Well, of course obesity levels are rising here, too. That's what happens when McDonald's moves in.

    But I disagree that economic necessity makes the Dutch ride bikes. 90% of families have at least one car, after all. Better zoning laws means that most houses are within walking/biking distance of some shops, and if it's only half a mile away, it's simply not worth the hassle of taking the car, and finding parking.