“Here’s what my breakfast in Singapore looked like: sticky, slime-coloured coconut custard jam slathered over a thin crisp of toasted brown bread, served with a side of two eggs so undercooked that their whites retained the clarity of newly dead fish eyes. Alongside, a small cup of coffee with an oleaginous blackness that rejected the advances of condensed milk. It was not love at first sight.” — National Geographic, April 7, 2019

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Since coming to the United States, I have lost quite a bit of weight. Since so many Americans are obese, I was nervous that I’d eventually join them, but now it seems I’m more in danger of malnutrition from eating so little. My host family has been generously plying me with various American delicacies, but their food is so poorly seasoned and unsanitary that I usually choke down a few mouthfuls before insisting I am full and excusing myself from the table.

This is a beautiful country, bustling with culture, but I look forward to returning to civilization.

When I got off the plane, my host parents, Dave and Becky Brown, two kind but simple Americans with matching blue eyes and double chins, greeted me at the airport. For our first meal, they took me to a popular American restaurant called “McDonald’s,” where we would dine on cheeseburgers and French fries. They asked if I wanted a Coke (a cold, brown, sweetened fizzy drink) as well, but I politely declined, as the restaurant didn’t offer it warm.

Upon receiving our orders, my hosts immediately popped open their boxes and began eating with their hands. I was so shocked that I almost dropped my fork. What a revolting habit — even animals that use their mouths directly to eat are more sanitary.

For the uninitiated, a cheeseburger is a full meal arranged in a stack. To eat one, you must cup it with both hands because there’s nothing holding its many parts together. Between two round slices of bread, there are raw vegetables (which I quickly picked out — who eats uncooked veggies?), a thin patty of cooked, ground cow, and a thick, pungent orange sauce that smells like a dumpster on a hot summer day.

When I took my first bite, hot juice released and dripped down the side of my fingers. The taste of under-seasoned meat combined with something rancid reminded me of a time when my brother tricked me into drinking old milk. I held my breath and tried to power through eating the thing.

Dave and Becky, however, were making short work of their food.

“Um…” I said hesitantly, lifting the top bun off my cheeseburger, “what’s this orange stuff?”

“It’s cheddar cheese, honey!” Becky beamed.

Cheese is an American delicacy made from milk that has gone bad. Long ago, when the cows made too much milk and it stored improperly, the frugal American people found a way to make a solid using the spoiled milk, so they could eat it instead of waste it. Despite the fact that cheese is literally rotten food, it is a surprisingly popular snack and condiment. Poor people even add shaved pieces to their noodles for flavor, but to be quite honest, the best thing you can do with cheese is to chuck it in the bin where it belongs.

I politely took another bite of my cheeseburger and tried not to focus on the underlying taste of old milk. If my brother could have seen me then! Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Dave and Becky licking and sucking their unwashed, food-juice-covered fingertips. The sounds they made were horrifying. It was then that I gave up and put down my cheeseburger, explaining to them that my jetlag had made me lose my appetite.

Americans are such down-to-earth, unpretentious people. Though the practice of cleaning their germ-riddled hands with their mouths unsettled me, their simple charm is undeniable. I was hopeful that in the coming weeks I would find food that was more agreeable to my palate, not knowing that my hopes were to be dashed again and again. I will cover this in my upcoming pieces on steak (which is barely cooked cow) and the confounding practice of wrapping absolutely any kind of food in bacon strips.