On the flight to L.A., my mind was a blur. I was about to spend the next four years of my life (and possibly more) in an unknown town in an unknown country in “the New World.” Raised outside the U.S., I had little prior experience with American culture beyond what I’d gleaned from Hollywood movies. And although my impressionable mind held a few preconceived notions about the treasures awaiting me in the U.S., sugar did not initially feature on that list. Once in Claremont, I was sweetly surprised.
Everywhere I looked, I saw Americans consuming sugar. Most of my American friends have a large glass of soda with every meal at the dining halls, in addition to the brownies, frozen yogurt, and other treats prepared daily for dessert. Typical outside-of-class tutoring sessions offer cookies to entice students to attend. Administrative offices set out candy bowls at their reception desks where any visitor can “pick a few.”
What surprised me the most was that nobody in the U.S. seemed to notice the excessive amount of sugar being consumed on a daily basis. Americans just carried on munching their M&Ms and Mars Bars, regardless of how rudely this international student gaped at them. Nobody but me seemed to be disgusted by all the sugar because sugar is simply a way of life here.
One Wednesday night, I finally broke down. My suitemate and I attended Harvey Mudd’s weekly doughnut party at the campus center, and the variety being served that night was doughnuts dipped in maple syrup. I couldn’t take it anymore. “Why syrup?!” I finally asked. “Is a doughnut not sweet enough already?” Only from an American could I have gotten such a reply: “Wait ‘til you come for cream-frosted doughnut night!”
But with time, I slowly began delighting in the habits of the natives. In all its stealth, sugar gradually won me over. It began with a glass of soda at lunch, and then it progressed to candy bars in between classes. Soon I found nothing weird about eating caramel popcorn alongside frozen yogurt at the movie theatre, and I would wash down fistfuls of cookies with a swig of a milkshake.
Finally, I found myself standing at the L.A. County Fair holding a chocolate cupcake heaped with the most generous amount of vanilla frosting and M&M toppings that I had ever seen. If my life were a movie, the scene of me taking a bite out of that cupcake would have played out in slow motion, with the camera following as I spat our chunks of cupcake as if projectile vomiting.
I had broken out of the spell. At last, I saw all the surrounding food stalls of the L.A. County Fair in their true, dark colors. The vendor now hid a wicked smile as he heaped sugared strawberries onto funnel cakes. I made a beeline for the boiled corn stall and bought a cob (without dipping it in butter). From then on, I vowed to be careful.
In my short experience with the American way, I’ve realized how much pleasure you get when a Twix bar melts in your mouth, and I wouldn’t dare take that away from anybody. But it is my sincerest hope that everyone will try to set personal standards. After all, it is the guilty pleasures that make life worth living.