During another recent fleeting visit to the continent, something about the Austrian way of life got my little dietitiany cogs going. It was on day 3, whilst I enjoyed an iced coffee in one of Salzburg's many Platz that I started to notice that over the last few days, something which usually plays a pretty major role in my diet, had been missing.
They’re fresh, they're packed full of goodness and they're often green, but in Bavaria... they're absolutely no-where to be found. In their place are either greasy and heavy or sugary and sticky delights. For example, a typical meal might begin with the diner ordering a clear meat-broth soup with a couple of good sized doughy-dumplings in it, for a main - huge slabs of veal fried in breadcrubs and oil, stuffed with cheese and bacon and mushrooms on a bed of rice, with a side of potatoes and perhaps a pretzel for good measure, of course all of this is to be washed down with an enormous stein of beer and followed with crispy apple strudel layered in hot vanilla sauce with a dollop of ice cream!
This I could deal with, afterall it was only four days and therefore not like I was expected have the sensation of carring a lead balloon around in my tummy for the rest of my life. But what put my little British nose right out of joint was that as I gazed down at my ‘iced coffee’ (1 part coffee-water, 99 parts whipped and vanilla ice creams), watching the hundred-odd people in the market square, I could only spot two or three (if that!) who showed the evidence of having consumed this diet all their lives.
So it got me wondering why, in a country where the population survived off this incredibly rich and dense food, where the only fruits were caked in sugar and the only vegetables were ladled with cheese sauce, did it seem that on average only 2-3% of the population were overweight?!!
Indeed, I’m sure we all often ponder over why it is that this also seems to be the case for the French who freely gorge on delicious thick breads, creamy cheeses and good wines throughout the day, the Indians with the rich living a life on creamy curries, the Chinese who sustain themselves on foods that we reserve for cheeky take-aways, the Spaniards, the Itallians, the Lebanese… I’m telling you it’s a pretty horrendous list when you think about it.
So is the rest of the world having a good old giggle behind the backs of the Brits and the yanks as we yo-yo diet away and pay through the nose for expensive gym memberships? My brother, the temporary yocal Austrian resident gave me the explanation that it’s because they're much more active than us, spoilt with the mountains and all the enjoyable recreation they have to offer...
True, mountain biking or walking through green grassy valleys, skiing down crisp white slopes, and swimming or rowing in beautiful monster-sized lakes, holds slightly more appeal than their gymnasium-based equivalents. So I guess it’s a fair excuse, but if that’s not the big secret, with a rising obesity budget and many fabulous Britons at their wit's despair, could somebody, very kindly, please let us in?