From the affluent to the poor: the world's eating trends

The pasta craze, interest in fresh fruit and vegetables, the need for quick, easy, dishes - these and other trends are not limited to the United States today.

Australians and Parisians, like Americans, are eating more fresh vegetables and fruits and less meat in favor of seafood and poultry.

In contrast, red-meat consumption is up in Tokyo as the Japanese add more protein to their diet.

In addition to the trends of less meat, more seafood, and better availability of quick foods, there is also growing concern about the diets of low-income families in many countries.

These themes and others were discussed by a panel of journalists from three continents reporting on shopping, cooking, eating, and entertaining habits in Australia, Brazil, England, Canada, France, and Japan.

People everywhere are discovering foreign foods and adding them to their traditional native menus, according to the panelists.

In countries where food is plentiful and choices abound, variety is increasing, with the result of better- balanced meals in many parts of the world.

But women continue to do the majority of the day-to-day cooking, with the man's role in the kitchen usually limited to weekends and special occasions.

In countries surveyed, 39 percent of the men did some cooking. More than half of the French, US, and Canadian men cook. In Brazil, however, fewer than 1 in 5 men do any cooking.

Women also do most of the shopping, although 81 percent of all Canadian men buy some of the groceries, followed by 66 percent in France, 37 percent in Japan , and 35 percent in Australia, according to a worldwide consumer study on food habits conducted by Beatrice Companies Inc., the largest food company in the US.

The study also shows that, in some countries, how often people shop depends on whether or not they own a refrigerator or freezer. In other countries shopping frequency is based on an interest in fresh, natural foods.

US shoppers may shop once a day because they're cooking new recipes with new ingredients, while the Japanese - who ranked first in freezer ownership among the countries surveyed - shop the most often of the five countries, to purchase fresh fish for sashimi.

Spokesmen from three of the countries surveyed told of current trends on a panel for food editors at the Hotel Drake recently.

While lower-income people in England are still eating very starchy foods, eating habits of ''the affluent middle classes have changed extraordinarily,'' says Prudence Leith, a food writer for The Guardian in London as well as the owner of a cooking school and the author of several cookbooks.

''People with more disposable income tend to be fashion- or status-conscious, and their culinary tastes range from gourmet and health foods to backyard barbecues,'' she says.

''The rest of Britain still regards a good snack as a 'chip butty.' And if you don't know what that is - it's a real greasy French-fry sandwich made with white bread.

''It's getting better, though,'' she says. ''Supermarkets have helped by really leading the revolution in improving the quality of convenience foods.''

When it comes to dining out, more Britons are eating out during the week because of working schedules, but weekends are still reserved for home or country entertaining. Here meals consist mostly of traditional fare, often using recipes handed down for generations.

''The English diet has always been based on hearty meals made from readily available or home-grown foods - meats and poultry and domestic cheeses such as Stilton and Cheddar from local farmhouses.''

In Brazil, eating habits have been dramatically altered by the distressed economy of that nation, according to Silvio Lancelotti, a Brazilian print and television journalist and consultant to several Sao Paulo chefs.

''Thirty percent of Brazil's 120 million people are starving,'' he says, ''and conditions appear to be getting worse.

''This crisis is affecting profoundly the Brazilian way of eating. I can remember in the 1960s when middle-class people in Brazil ate beef and rice and fruit and vegetables every day. Now they are eating beef every other day.''

Mr. Lancellotti says rampant inflation in Brazil, with food prices rising almost daily, means the average Brazilian is spending 28 percent of family income on food.

''It doesn't mean Brazilians eat a lot,'' he adds. ''It's because the average income is very low.

''Brazil, especially Sao Paulo, is a land of contradictions. The affluent are doing very well. We have huge supermarkets - some with as many as 100 checkouts.''

Even though inflation has made dining out rare, Brazilians are reluctant to give up the luxury of good food and are entertaining more at home.

Willie Mark, a Hong Kong food and financial writer for three Chinese newspapers, spoke about the food of his homeland.

Although traditional Cantonese foods such as Won Ton noodles remain popular, the people of Hong Kong are eating more hamburgers, hot dogs, pizza, French fries, and even potato chips.

''Hong Kong is the trend-setter when it comes to Chinese cuisine,'' he said.

''Its basic concept has proven to be in line with the worldwide cooking trends: fast cooking to retain flavor; insistence on fresh, top-quality ingredients; minimal use of seasoning or additives; health consciousness; importance of fresh vegetables and seafoods.

Hong Kong's food trends match most of those detailed in the recent survey of international food trends by Beatrice Foods. ''Your trends of today are actually our traditions,'' Mr. Mark said.

In an East-West switch of food trends, Hong Kong and the US are adopting each other's food preparations and eating habits. As more and more Hong Kong homemakers enter the workplace, Western-style convenience foods gain in popularity.

Food preparation in Hong Kong - as in other Asian countries - is generally traditional, with steaming and stir-frying more frequently used. But the conventional oven is rapidly becoming a common tool because it allows the cook to prepare meals in advance or to cook frozen convenience foods.

And as Americans search for more variety in new tastes and textures, they realize the benefits of eating quickly cooked, stir-fried, and steamed Oriental dishes.

All three panelists said that nutrition has become a greater concern in their societies, although very little if any nutritional labeling is found on food products in England, according to Ms. Leith.

Mr. Mark noticed that younger people in Hong Kong, like their counterparts in the West, often place ''enjoyment'' before nutrition and are eating more fast foods and snacks.

Brazilians, particularly the upper classes, are beginning to be more moderate with sugar and salt intake, said Mr. Lancelotti. ''But the larger issue,'' he added, ''is that Brazilians must learn to optimize their eating habits and cooking methods.'' Sao Paulo Beef 1 large carrot, finely chopped (about 1 cup) 1 medium white onion, finely chopped (about 1 cup) 2 tablespoons vegetable oil 2 1/2 pounds sirloin, coarsely ground 1 cup drained canned corn 1 cup beef stock or bouillon 1/4 cup tomatoes, drained and chopped 1/4 cup all-purpose flour 1/3 cup sliced black olives 2 1/2 teaspoons salt 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper 3 cups hot cooked rice

Saute carrot and onion in oil over medium heat 2 minutes. Add meat and saute mixture until brown. Add corn and beef stock.

In separate bowl, blend chopped tomatoes and flour. Add to meat mixture.

Simmer, stirring 5 minutes or until thickened. Stir in olives, salt, and pepper. Serve over rice. Makes 6 servings.

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