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Global Consumerism: Who Eats The Most Fast Food?

Fast Food. Everybody loves it. C’mon, admit it, even if greasy burgers aren’t your thing, you like at least one type of fast food. Sesame noodle stir fry? Take-away sushi? Falafel wrap? Raspberry-topped frozen yoghurt on the go?

The fast food industry is HUGE. Just to give you an idea of the magnitude of the figures involved, global consumer expenditure on fast food in 2011 totalled US$583.2 billion. That’s not just people gorging themselves on burgers, fries and buckets of coke, mind, but it encompasses all manner of fast food, including Asian, Middle Eastern and bakery fast food, etc.

The largest global market for fast food is – no surprise here – the US, followed by China, Japan, Brazil and the UK. In terms of annual per capita spend, Australia leads (ahead of the US!) with US$653 in 2011. US consumers forked out US$630 per person, closely followed by Canadians.

In per capita terms, the US clocked up the highest spend on burger fast food, a whopping US$295 in 2011. Surprisingly, France also features in the top ten, with US$116 per head.

The Romans brought fast food to Toledo. Erm... OK... maybe not, but this Toledo restaurant seems to want to convince us...

The Romans brought fast food to Toledo. Erm… OK… maybe not, but this Toledo restaurant seems keen to convince us!

Burger fast food is the biggest fast food category, accounting for almost one third of total global fast food in terms of value. After burgers, Asian fast food is the second-largest category, and the fastest growing.

McDonald's is the world's leading fast food chain. As you can see, Toledo's historic town centre has not been spared

McDonald’s is the world’s leading fast food chain. As you can see, Toledo’s historic town centre has not been spared

Pizza fast food was worth nearly US$10 billion in 2011. Again, the US is the largest market, followed by Italy and Russia. In per capita terms, though, Swedes and Finns spent the most. Scandinavians are well known for being totally pizza crazy, they also top the per capita spend charts of frozen supermarket pizza.

Why cough up €2.50 for an abstemious slice, when you can get twenty times as much food for only ten times the price?!

Why cough up €2.50 for an abstemious slice, when you can get twenty times as much grub for only ten times the price?!

As you’d perhaps expect, the UK is the biggest marked for fish fast food. Yes, that’s down to the infamous ‘national dish’ that is fish’n’chips, on which the Brits fritter away US$2.3 billion annually – that’s one third of what the category is worth on a global level.

 

[For data source, click here]

An Homage To Toledo Cathedral’s One Lonely Steeple…

I took a handful of shots of Toledo Cathedral’s steeple from a number of different angles. I was really surprised how well they turned out! It’s worth clicking on the images to get a larger view.

But why does Toledo Cathedral only have one steeple?! More on this shortly…

Shot through a narrow street bathed in sunlight, with the steeple towering gloomily in the background

Shot through a narrow sunny street, with the steeple towering gloomily in the background

Against a dramatic sky

Against a dramatic sky

This perspective gives it a somewhat gritty, urban feel

This perspective gives it a somewhat gritty, urban feel

Taken at dusk, with the top third bathed in the warm glow of the setting sun

Taken at dusk, with the top third bathed in the warm glow of the setting sun

Why does there have to be a bloody cable ruining my shot?!

Why does there have to be a bloody cable ruining my shot?!

So, if you’re wondering about this one-steeple business, you’re not alone. People have been scratching their heads over this for hundreds of years. We know that the construction of the Cathedral started in 1226, and that twin steeples were planned, but the second one never quite made it, as you can tell from the picture below.

There are two dominant theories: Either they ran out of money and couldn’t afford to make the right-hand steeple quite as fancy as the one on the left, or they realised at some point during construction that the foundations wouldn’t be able to support the weight, so they were forced to compromise.

A frontal view, so you can see the runty 'stumple' on the left, forever looking up to its majestic big brother

A frontal view of Toledo Cathedral, so you can see the runty ‘stumple’ on the left, wistfully looking up to its majestic big brother

What Is Toledo Famous For? The Tackiest Tourist Tat You’ve Ever Seen!

Back in January, I went on a shopping expedition around the old town, for the purpose of picking up a few gifts for my friends in Key West. But it proved to be mission impossible. Despite a plethora of ‘gifty’ type souvenir shops, I could not turn up anything that would have made an adequate present for people who matter to me.

It struck me that, even though Key West is as touristy a place as you’ll find anywhere on the planet, with its fair share of vulgar tat,  its shops are also full of beautiful things. Shopping for trinkets in Key West may be a tad expensive,  but, nevertheless, trash and genuinely pretty stuff manage to coexist side-by-side. But not in Toledo.

I’ll show you what I mean. Cling onto your seats. You might want to inch your sunglasses into combat position.

The first couple of pics are just a gentle warm-up:

Toledo Souvenir ShopToledo Souvenir Shop

Get the idea? Still with me….???

Not sure if you’re quite prepared for what’s to come. The next one has been unanimously declared as the pinnacle of bad taste by everyone I know who lives here. Up until a few months ago, this was a shoe shop, but now it’s a grotto dedicated to technicolour ghastliness, guarded by this monstrosity:

Yup. A stuffed bull. People stop and pose for photographs. How can anyone go in there and not barf?!?

Yup. A stuffed bull. People stop and pose for photographs. How can anyone go in there and not barf?!?

Run-of-the-mill junk

Run-of-the-mill junk

€27.50 for a crappy flamenco doll? Just who would spend their money on that?!? Whoooo???

€27.50 for a lurid flamenco doll? Just who would spend their money on that?!? Whoooo???

Ditto those diabolical dresses. Nothing against flamenco dresses per se, they could be really stylish, but these garish plastic contraptions are about as well-made and appealing as refuse sacks

Ditto those bilious dresses. Nothing against flamenco dresses per se, they could be really stylish, especially with 80s ra-ra skirts back in style, but these garish by-products of the petrochemicals industry are about as appealing as refuse sacks

If you're a Red Cross nurse looking to pick up a sprightly young doctor in a combat zone, then this is the shop for you

If you’re a Red Cross nurse looking to pick up a sprightly young doctor in a combat zone, then this is the shop for you

Words fail me

Words fail me

Toledo Ceramics

This shop actually has four windows, but I shall spare you the last one

This shop actually has four windows, but I shall spare you the last one. Maybe we could divert some of those infamous Spanish bull races through here???

God may forgive all sins. But surely, NOT THIS!

God may forgive all sins. But surely, NOT THIS!

As it happens, today I was having breakfast with a couple of local friends, one of whom mentioned that she’d just been into Madrid to buy a couple of birthday presents, because “you can’t get anything nice in Toledo”.

This town, like the much of the rest of Spain, is in the throws of an abysmal economic crisis. I do wonder to what extent the failure to provide simple things, like decent gift articles, is contributing to this sorry state of affairs.

What Is Toledo Famous For? Swords!

Always fancied a handy little meat cleaver to cut short this month’s upcoming team meeting? Or a swift Samurai blade for your mother-in-law’s next visit? You’ve come to the right place. Cutting implements of all shapes, sizes and styles populate Toledo’s shop windows. The good old Romans turned the city into a major centre of  weapons manufacture and metal work two thousand years ago. No good trying to subjugate barbarians with a fistful of toothpicks, is it?!

Today, Toledo’s sharp’n’shiny wares are mostly for decoration. And for the film industry. Ever wondered about the origins of the swords, daggers and knives wielded by heroes and baddies in productions like Lord of the Rings, Conan and Xena Warrior Princess? Well, most of these props were made in Toledo. Toledo Swords Window Display

Toledo Swords Window Display

Now, if this isn't every wanna-be celebrity chef's wet dream...!

Now, if this isn’t every wanna-be celebrity chef’s wet dream…!

Even the shop dummies are armed... presumably to deter shoplifters

Even the shop dummies are armed… presumably to deter shoplifters

This jewellery shop isn't shy about the fact that the Lord Of The Rings rings were also made in Toledo

This jewellery shop isn’t shy about the fact that the Lord Of The Rings rings were also made in Toledo

What is Toledo Famous For? Marzipan!

San Clemente PosterToledo is famous for three things: Swords, damascene and MARZIPAN! And seeing as I’m totally possessed by a sweet tooth,  I’d have to start with the latter, no question.

The Convent of St Clement supposedly came up with this delectable stuff in the 16th century, when there was a famine on. Almond trees grow like weed in and around Toledo, so the nuns ground up the almonds, mixed them with sugar, and hey presto – marzipan.

It is sold in dozens of shops across town.

 

Toledo Marzipan Shop

Some of the more creative establishments like to mold theirs into fancy fairy tale castles:

Marzipan Castle…and dragons!

I can't wait to slay this one...!

Toledo is home to innumerable convents, and each of them seems to make its own marzipan as well as other types of sweets. The convents usually have a shop attached where they sell their delicacies to the public. Signs like this are plastered all over town:
Toledo Sweet Shop SignsAll looks harmless enough, doesn’t it. But don’t be deceived. In a cunning feat of investigative journalism, I have uncovered the shocking truth of what goes on behind the scenes: A deplorable local racket of nun slavery!
Valiantly risking my own life, I managed to sneak into one of those sweetshops sweatshops, where I took these heartbreaking photographs:

Oh, how they toil, the little nuns!

Oh, how they toil, the little nuns!

See the white one in the back? She's bad to the core, goading her underlings, making them knead till their pudgy little knuckles bleed

See the white one in the back? She’s bad to the core, goading her underlings, making them knead till their pudgy little knuckles bleed

Unfortunately, my cover was blown when I decided to take some samples. Purely for evidence, you understand. They kicked me out.

Actually, I’ve decided that I don’t give a rat’s arse about how much they suffer. As long as they keep coming up with the goods.

Toledo Marzipan

Toledo's famed marzipan cake. It is so sweet it makes all your teeth dissolve instantly...total bliss!!!

Toledo’s famed marzipan cake. It is so sweet it makes all your teeth dissolve instantly…total bliss!!!

The Nuns' Café

The Nuns’ Café

Toledo’s Beautiful Buildings: St. Martin’s Bridge (Puente De San Martín)

Toledo has two glorious historic bridges, Alcántara Bridge, of which I’ve posted a set of pictures a couple of weeks back, and St. Martin’s Bridge, coming up below.

The bridge was originally commissioned in the 14th century by Archbishop Pedro Tenorio, and, according to local lore, the architect who built it had made a big boo-boo. He realised a few days before the inauguration that he had miscalculated the bridge’s load bearing capacity.

Riddled with anxiety, he told wifey of his fears that once the scaffolding was removed, the structure would come tumbling down. Said wife, clearly more of an action person than a worrier, went out at night and burnt the whole thing down, giving her husband the chance to do the job again, and this time properly.
St Martin's Bridge

St Martin's Bridge Toledo

St Martin's Bridge Toledo

St Martin's Bridge Toledo

View from St Martin's Bridge, Toledo

St Martin's Bridge Toledo

St Martin's Bridge Toledo

Not half bad for a re-hashed botch job is it…?!

For some more beautiful views of Toledo, click here. (I add new pictures to this file on a regular basis).

Who Consumes The Most Energy Drinks? And Are They Dangerous…?

Energy drinks are not only the fastest growing soft drinks category, but also the most picked on. Every month there seems to be another news item about some hapless kid popping its clogs after guzzling fifteen cans of Manic Mongrel or whatever the manufacturers chose to christen their sugary brew of chemicals.

Just this month, EFSA (the European Food Safety Authority) published a report stating that “12% of adult Europeans consume energy drinks at ‘chronic’ levels”.

Do people really drink that much of this stuff?

Consumption highest on Red Bull’s home turf
According to the commercial database I use for my work, global consumption of energy drinks shot up from 842 million litres in 1998 to…wait for it… 5.6 billion litres in 2012. Whoah.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Austria, home of Red Bull, led the global per capita consumption charts with 7.6 litres in 2012, followed by Ireland and the UK (both 6.3 litres), Switzerland (6 litres), the US (5.4 litres) and Australia (5.3 litres).

This may not sound like an awful lot, when compared to cola carbonates, of which Americans consume, on average, 82 litres per head in one year, Brits 52 litres and Canadians 63 litres.

Boys just want to be cool
It has to be taken into consideration, though, that cola drinks are widely consumed by both sexes and virtually all age groups. Energy drinks, on the other hand, have one core target group: young males.

Officially, the target demographic for these beverages is often delineated as ‘males aged between 18 and 29’, but in reality, my guess is that the age group over which they exert their maximum appeal is more like 13-35.

Marketers, who know how this segment of the human species works, have gone to great lengths to make these concoctions synonymous with ‘cool’ sports, like snowboarding and speedboat racing. Red Bull, in particular, takes the utmost care to sponsor only the ‘right’ kinds of events in line with its image. Extreme skydiving (remember Felix Baumgartner’s 39 kilometre supersonic freefall jump last October??) reflects its daredevil adrenaline fuelled values, but it won’t put its name to anything slightly ‘base’ and messy like boxing.

Incidentally, Red Bull, which is the world’s leading energy drinks brand, has never produced a single drink. It’s a purebred marketing company established by a guy called Dietrich Mateschitz for the sole purpose of lining his pockets by hyping a beverage that is made by someone else. (Mateschitz is worth a handsome US$7.1 billion, according to Forbes).

A warning label will help …NOT.
As to whether energy drinks are harmful or not is a a question easily answered by employing common sense. Without even having to go into the purported properties of other ‘magic’ ingredients commonly featured in energy drinks (for example taurine, an amino acid), caffeine, like alcohol and nicotine, is a poison. If you have too much of it, you can, uhm, poison yourself. Fancy that!

This concoction, said to be as strong as 3 Red Bulls, was pulled from retail shelves in the US in 2007

This concoction, said to be as strong as 3 Red Bulls, was pulled from retail shelves in the US in 2007

Unlike alcohol and nicotine, it’s hard to push for age restrictions on caffeinated beverages, for the obvious reason that coffee, tea, cola and chocolate all contain caffeine or compounds similar to caffeine, and that these are widely consumed by virtually all age groups.

A can of an energy drink isn’t any more lethal than a cup or two of coffee. What makes energy drinks potentially dangerous is their image, which is liable to inspire competitive hare-brainedness in boys along the lines “I can drink more of this vile stuff than you”.

The other danger spot is that energy drinks are often used as mixers for alcoholic drinks. According to the aforementioned EFSA report, 48% of 10-14 year-olds consume them that way. Energy drinks counteract the tiredness that usually comes with drinking alcohol, and so people may end up drinking more than they otherwise would.

Some want to see warning labels on energy drinks, but come on! Warning labels only make them more attractive to their target group. Personally, I think that the only way to curb consumption is to make it mandatory to sell them in pink cans. Preferably embellished with pictures of kittens. With sparkly bows on.

A growing army of pink cans is meant to rope in a generally disinclined female demographic. Maybe it's the lack of kittens...

A growing army of pink cans is meant to rope in a generally disinclined female demographic. Maybe it’s the lack of kittens…

[For data source, click here]

 

Toledo Tales: The Daily Rat Run

This series of photographs was inspired by a fellow blogger in Shanghai, who posted last week under the heading “My Neighbourhood Via Phone”. So, I thought to myself, why not take a few snaps of what I see every day when I step outside my front door to do my food shopping, meet someone for a coffee etc. (I did not use my phone to take the snaps, coz I can’t figure out how the bloody thing works. It’s the tool of the devil.)

Shit! Cat shit, to be exact. Right outside my front door. Every day, there it is, in precisely the same spot. It’s only the degree of freshness and…erm… consistency that varies.

If you want to take a look at the culprits, click here.

And if you want to know what’s being done about it (or not, lol), see here. Sigh.

Straight in front is the back of the University building. The brickwork is painted on, They call this a "trampantojo" (deceiving the eyes). I do wonder whey they bothered, seeing as this is a backstreet, where tourists do not tend to venture

Straight in front is the back of the University building. The brickwork is painted on, they call this a “trampantojo” (deceiving the eyes). I do wonder why they bothered, seeing as this is a backstreet, where tourists do not tend to venture

Through the passage to the right, we have an old, extremely dilapidated building adjacent to a recently renovated one

Through the passage to the right, we have an old, extremely dilapidated building adjacent to a recently renovated one

Same as above, different perspective

Same as above, different perspective

I've turned left now, heading for the narrow shortcut that I use almost every day

I’ve turned left now, heading for the narrow shortcut that I use almost every day

There's always someone coming the other way

There’s always someone coming the other way

The passage spills out onto Plaza De San Vicente. You can tell it's before 10am, because after that time, all the delivery vans have to have left the old town

The passage spills out onto Plaza De San Vicente. You can tell it’s before 10am, because after that time, all the delivery vans have to have left the old town

The Post Office's letter boxes

The Post Office’s fierce letter boxes

Delivery vehicles clogging up Calle De La Plata (Silver Street)

Delivery vehicles clogging up Calle De La Plata (Silver Street)

View down Calle De La Plata, in the other direction

View down Calle De La Plata, in the other direction

The small delicatessen shop on Calle De La Plata that I regularly frequent. A tad pricey, but I've never been sold anything in there that wasn't top notch

The small delicatessen shop on Calle De La Plata that I regularly frequent. A tad pricey, but I’ve never been sold anything in there that wasn’t top notch.
Those are hams dangling from the ceiling. The little triangular-looking things sticking out the bottom of the hams are cones designed to catch any dripping fat. And oooooh, just look at the cheese!

I only noticed a couple of weeks ago that the building on top of the deli was actually quite beautiful

I only noticed a couple of weeks ago that the building on top of the deli was actually quite stunning

Watch out! This is the most expensive corner shop in the Western hemisphere. Do not go in there. Ever. Not even for an emergency pack of chewing gum. You'll come out with the shirt ripped off your bleedin' back, missing an arm and a leg. (O un riñon, si eres español.)

Watch out! This is the most expensive corner shop in the Western hemisphere. Do not go in there. Ever. Not even for an emergency pack of chewing gum. You’ll come out with the shirt ripped off your bleedin’ back, missing an arm and a leg. (O un riñon, si eres español.)

The frozen yoghurt shop gets rather too much business from me... and right next door, a shop selling lottery tickets. Closed right now, but when it's open, there's always a line of people. The Spanish are lottery mad, crisis or no crisis

The frozen yoghurt shop gets rather too much business from me. Right next to it, there’s a shop selling lottery tickets. When it’s open, there’s always a line of people. The Spanish are totally lottery mad, economic crisis or not.

Now I just hope I haven’t bored the pants off anyone…!

Who Smokes the Most Cigarettes? And What Are The Attitudes To Smoking In Different Countries?

Ah, smoking… a topic that should provide plenty of fodder for an animated discussion. I’m going to off start with a handful of statistics, followed by some observations and anecdotes about smoking culture in the few countries that I have direct experience of.

Eastern Europeans smoke the most
OK, numbers first. The market research company I do most of my freelance work for also keeps tabs on global cigarette sales. And even though I’ve no legitimate business rummaging around in there, I do, on occasions, wheedle my way into that part of the database, goaded by lurid fascination.

It tells me that global per capita consumption of cigarettes stood at 833 in 2011. That’s individual sticks, not packets. Eastern Europeans are the heaviest smokers – Belarus leads the pack (pardon the pun) with 3,080 cigarettes per head, followed by Serbia (2,946) and Russia (2,624). In fact, there are only two countries in the top ten that are not Eastern European, namely Greece and South Korea.

For added context, the four countries I’m going to be referring to in my observations below fare as follows: Spanish consumers racked up 1,378 cigs per head in 2011 (there is a steep downward trend, in 2006 it was 2,127), Germans
1,037, Americans 959 and Brits came in below the global average with 720.

Never make assumptions…
As to attitudes to smoking in various countries, I’m not planning to launch into an all-angles considered assessment, I’m just going to relay a couple of  anecdotes and some personal observations. I realise that your take on things may well differ considerably from mine.

In January 2011, Spain banned smoking in all bars and restaurants. The Spanish have a reputation for not giving a toss about regulations pertaining to behaviour in public spaces, but, much everyone's surprise, people are actually sticking to this one. I took this picture in a local cafe, with the 'No Smoking' sign neatly perched on top of a cigarette vending machine.

In January 2011, Spain banned smoking in all bars and restaurants. The Spanish have a reputation for not giving a toss about regulations pertaining to behaviour in public spaces, but, much to everyone’s surprise, people are actually sticking to this one.
I took this picture in a local cafe, with the ‘No Smoking’ sign neatly perched on top of a cigarette vending machine.

In 2011, at Christmas time, when I’d only been in Spain for a couple of months, a kind new friend invited me along to a pre-Christmas dinner at her house. There were about a dozen of us, and once the introductions were out of the way, one of the guests asked the hostess whether she minded him smoking in her living room. She told him to go ahead. When we took our seats at the table, I carefully chose the chair farthest away from him.

I needn’t have bothered. As soon as the desserts arrived, six people lit up in complicit unison. I sat there, watching what was happening in complete and utter incredulity. I also remember being slightly bemused by my own reaction – I had just assumed that this was no longer a socially acceptable behaviour in the ‘civilised world’.

I had really wanted to stay for the whole evening. All the people were lovely and interesting, and they were making a star effort to engage me in conversation, which I really appreciated, considering my quite limited Spanish conversation skills. One person smoking would have been bearable, but the combined fumes of six people puffing one after the other made my eyes water and my lungs burn. So, with much regret, I took off early.

Cultural differences and changing attitudes

I think my bias is clear: I’m no great fan of smoking. I grew up in a smoke-filled house, and there was no escape from it. My father, in particular, would regularly walk into my bedroom where he kept his tool cupboard, fag* ablaze.

Back in the 80s and early 90s, when I still lived in Germany, it was common for people to smoke while sitting at their office desks. When I moved to the UK in the early 90s, I immediately noticed that there was no smoking in the workplace.

And another thing caught my attention: Like in Spain, in Germany, smoking was (and still is) fairly evenly distributed throughout the socioeconomic classes, while in the UK (and, in my albeit much more limited experience, the US) educated middle class people rarely smoke. If they do, they usually resort to ‘stealth’ tactics, i.e. they smoke in their yards or on the balcony rather than inside their homes. This trend of not smoking in one’s living quarters also appears to have also taken hold in Germany in recent years.

A Spanish friend of mine told me an anecdote about a family visit to the US several years ago. As she and some other visitors got into her (American) sister-in-law’s car, her sister-in-law said, “Please don’t smoke in my car”. This struck my friend as a terribly rude request to impose on one’s guests. She laughs about this now, as she wouldn’t really want people to be smoking in her house or car either, but in Spain this is still quite commonly done and accepted.

If anyone wants to share their thoughts and experiences on this topic, I would love to hear them. But, please, let’s not descend to violently bashing smokers.

*) For the American reader contingent: “fag” is a British slang term for “cigarette”.

 

[For data source, click here]

Spain’s Economic Crisis: The Dark Side of Toledo

I usually bombard you with pretty pictures of my current “home town”, but there’s another side to Toledo, which isn’t quite so enchanting.

As you may be aware of, the boom years, which preceded Spain’s ongoing economic crisis, were founded on a building spree and unchecked property speculation. The remnants of this period of madness are all too visible. The outskirts of most Spanish towns are littered with half-finished office buildings and housing estates, destined to remain abandoned indefinitely.

Here are a handful of snaps taken in Toledo’s Poligono area.

The developer's board is a painful reminder of happier times. Today, with almost 60% of youth unemployment, people of the age group portrayed on the placard cannot afford to leave home, never mind buy a flat

The developer’s board is a painful reminder of happier times. Today, with youth unemployment close to 60%, people of the age group portrayed on the placard cannot afford to leave home, never mind buy a flat of their own

This playground doesn't see many children. The grey monoliths behind are not yet totally abandoned, although not totally abandoned, are in a sorry state of disrepair

This playground doesn’t see many children. The sparsely inhabited grey monoliths behind are in a sorry state of disrepair

A couple of derelict warehouses

A couple of derelict warehouses

Those cranes in the background haven't moved in a very long time...

Those cranes in the background haven’t moved in a very long time…

Now… if you’d like to look at some pretty pictures of Toledo, click here.

Or, if you want to see the ugliest thing Toledo has on offer, here it is…urgh.