The Voice of Croatia

Why are Croatians so Thin?

I’ve said it once and I’ll write it again: Croatians are obsessed with food. More importantly many Croatian moms and grandmas are obsessed with feeding… everyone. If you are asked: “Would you like more?” There is only one way that conversation ends, with more! And yet, for all the eating, feeding and obsession, Croatians as a whole, are far from fat. 

Why are Americans fat and Croatians aren’t? If you stroll through any Croatian town you will see tens of bakeries selling chocolate and vanilla pastries. Walk by a high school and you’ll see groups of kids stuffing pizza in their faces. Hang out at a park and you’ll see parents chasing their kids around trying to get them to eat. And the American fast-food chains are always crowded. Yet, you rarely see the epic proportions of obesity common in the US. How is this possible?

Obesity scale

According to the World Health Organization the US ranks 9th in a list of the world’s fattest countries, while Croatia stands at 71 (Number one is Nauru and since I’m American, I have no idea where or what that place is). So clearly, the stereotypes of fat Americans has some empirical support.

Ractopamine, Zeronal and oestradiol-17

One reason might be all the junk that is allowed in US food and not in EU food. Antibiotics and growth hormones are two of the most common elements present in US foods, but excluded in other parts of the world. Things with Science Fiction-like names such as Ractopamine, Zeronal, oestradiol-17 have not only been linked with increasing obesity, but also with cancer. Mmm… Tasty!

Fast-food capital

Aside from the influence of carcinogen growth hormones and numbered colors, like Yellow-5, US obesity also comes from the American lifestyle. According to some numbers I found on the internet (which must be true) there are around 50,000 fast-food chains in the US. Americans spent around 100 billion dollars on fast-food in 2014. Oklahoma City, my home state’s capital, won the crown for

fast-food capital

in 2007 because 55% of the public ate fast-food twelve times a month. In Croatia if you do eat a hamburger or čevapi its rare and you also, usually have to at least walk to the restaurant.

Life’s pace

I think the real differences exist in the pace of living. Life in the US is overwhelmed by urgency and exhaustion. We are racing to nowhere and in the rush we rely on the cheap, affordable ease of fast-food. My life in Croatia is more balanced than my life in the US was.

To the Greek philosopher Aristotle, moderation was the essence of living a moral, ethical and satisfying life. The American lifestyle pushes us to excess, it’s a race with no finish in which we frantically search for fuel. When I picture America, I see people hurrying, eating, drinking, gulping their way through traffic. When I think of Croatia, it’s a picture of people sitting, slowly drinking coffee without a hint of hurrying. Why these two worlds move at different tempos is beyond me. And while in Croatia someone is always offering you more and more food, you can bet it’s never fast.

In Croatia...

After the end of your meal at an American Chinese restaurant you always get a fortune cookie. Traditionally everyone at the table reads their fortune and then adds ” in bed ” to the end of it. So, “You must try hard or hate yourself for not trying” becomes  “You must try hard or hate yourself for not trying” … in bed. Or  “You can make your own happiness”becomes “You can make your own happiness…” in bed. Over the last couple of years I’ve started doing something similar with the phrase… ” in Croatia.”

Saying ” in Croatia ” is most useful for making the mundane extraordinary and putting what would be extraordinary in the US (or anywhere else in Europe) into the right, pitiful, context.

Best selling

If I tell people that I wrote a number one best selling book, that sounds impressive. You might even imagine I’m now in the company of other bestselling authors. All reasonable, until you add that phrase ‘in Croatia.’ What does it mean to be a bestselling author in Croatia? It means you drive a 2002 Hyundai Accent in 2015 and work three other jobs.
The best and the brightest

A friend of a friend is a BAFTA award winning director… in Croatia. So, he goes abroad to find work. I know a well respected, multiple award winning journalist… in Croatia. So of course she’s only hired as a freelancer. A student graduated at the top of her university class… in Croatia. So, she can’t find a job and waits tables in the summer. Or how about the menial worker who somehow became an oligarch in the 1990s… in Croatia. Maybe the ambitious idiot who failed at everything until he joined a political party, now he’s the head of a state firm… in Croatia.

The phrase ‘in Croatia’ sums up so many of the absurdities about life here. At times it seems like the world operates according to some sort of backward logic, as if up is down and down is up. What is the secret of success? Being hardworking, competent, talented? Not… in Croatia.

On the other hand…

At other times the phrase ‘in Croatia’ can be resolutely positive. For me it means I’ve escaped the monotony of American suburbia. I might be grocery shopping, but I’m grocery shopping in Croatia! I’m at the mall… in Croatia! I’m sitting and having coffee… in Croatia. I’m surrounded by history, 19th Century architecture, or in view of dang castle!
I might not have a lot of money, but I’m in Croatia. Here, I don’t have to worry about criminal violence, health insurance, or the many other insurmountable obstacles faced by the poor in America.

Summer in paradise

And best of all, in the summer I will live in a place people who don’t live in Croatia pay a lot of money to come and visit. It’s hard for me to imagine that what has now become a annual routine for me, is a once in lifetime experience for other people. And I get to stay there for next to nothing (though I do have to eat an unnecessary amount of soup for the privilege)!
And I know that during a swim at the beach, or over an evening drink on the Riva, perhaps after eating a full homemade lunch, or maybe while walking around the living ruins of Diocletian’s Palace, I’ll smile and think: I live …in Croatia.