A thin man in fat city

Travelling back to his home town of Los Angeles, David Bartal finds that Sweden still has a long way to go when it comes to unhealthy food at bargain prices.

For some reason I can’t gain weight. Ever since I had an operation one year ago and lost nearly 20 kilos, I’ve become a walking scarecrow, so thin I barely cast a shadow. I can’t wear any of my old clothes except my socks, but there is a bright side to my situation: I can gorge on as much food as I want, and I love to eat.

It is pleasant enough to be a glutton in Stockholm, but the promised land of culinary excess is my hometown Los Angeles, where restaurant meals are often large enough for two people.

This city on the shores of the Pacific Ocean is a heaven for fast-food addicts, where the usual burger and pizza joints are complemented by tasty, cholesterol-rich Mexican food. (I recommend the no-frills legend Tito’s Tacos in Culver City).

Paradoxically, no one seeks a slim body and physical perfection more deliberately than the folks who like to call themselves “Angelenos”. If you want to improve yourself with colon hypnotherapy, breast augmentation, vaginaplatsy (don’t ask), chemical skin peels, smile makeovers and permanent make-up (lip tattoos), this is the place for you.

If, on the other hand, you suffer from chronic pain, depression, anxiety, migraines or illnesses like glaucoma, cancer and arthritis, Los Angeles offers a novel solution — specialized evaluation clinics that have sprouted all over the city like colourful weeds.

At these medical clinics, you might qualify for a verification card that entitles you to legally purchase marijuana, California’s favourite herb. Free gifts and discounts to senior citizens lure customers to try this popular alternative medicine.

Our very own Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt appears to suffer from anxiety at some press conferences: perhaps he should plan a visit to the Sunshine State in the near future?

Los Angeles is a mecca for cheap and abundant groceries. If you happen to have 15 teenagers in your family or are fat as a house and want to stay that way, you really need to do your shopping at a members-only Costco warehouse, which dwarfs an ordinary Swedish supermarket.

I knew that this was a strange place, very different from my usual ICA or Coop, when I observed that some 8 or 10 grand pianos and organs were on display for sale. One of them was playing a snappy tune all by itself.

A nearby sign in Costco offering “online pizza orders” above a special red phone caught my eye and I tried to take a photo, but a security guard intervened: “No photography in the store.” Why, was he afraid I would steal their marketing secrets and start to compete in Hässelby?

Food is sold in mind boggling quantities in this nationwide Costco chain. I was sorely tempted by a one gallon (3.78 litre) jar of Kosher dill pickles for only $3.99 and a 3kg container of Nachos cheese sauce. Hmm, I thought that might go well with some dried black beans, which I discovered for sale in handy 25 lb. (11 kg) sacks. If only my suitcase was a little bit larger, I could bring all those treasures and more back to Stockholm.

One might say that you can buy anything but the kitchen sink at Costco, but that would be incorrect. It is possible to order kitchen sinks and counters at the store I visited. You can also get an eye exam, plan your next vacation, order auto insurance for travel into Mexico and purchase prescription drugs (but no marijuana).

My dedicated round of shopping at Costco caused me to work up an appetite. Luckily, just outside the front door was an outside venue where I enjoyed a gigantic slice of pizza smothered in about a pound of cheese, together with a Cola. The entire meal cost only $1.50, about nine Swedish kronor.

Ikea king Ingvar Kamprad and his meatballs with lingonberry jam can eat his heart out. When it comes to unhealthy food at cheap prices, we Yanks rule the world.