MONDAY, Oct. 11, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- The American battle with obesity is lost the minute you step on the gangplank.
That much was clear the day I boarded the cruise ship Ms. Zandaam in Vancouver recently, headed for a six-day cruise through Alaska's Inside Passage.
The weekly cruise, with about 1,400 passengers and 600 crew on board, plows through an average of 8,500 pounds of meat and meat products, 1,100 pounds of butter and margarine, and 200 gallons of ice cream, not to mention 18,000 eggs and 20,000 individual sugar packets, according to an official handout I received the first day.
The only question left in my mind was how many of those pounds would end up on my backside before I disembarked in a week's time.
Alaska is beautiful, but Zandaam's kitchen staff of 97 seemed determined to make the constantly replenished buffet tables at least as breathtaking.
Perhaps it wouldn't have been so bad if there hadn't been a resident control group on board. The largely Indonesian and Filipino crew were thin -- much thinner than the mostly American, British and Australian passengers who spent their days waddling through narrow corridors to get from one dining room to another. On our third night at sea, the emcee of an Indonesian crew show, a dining room steward, jokingly pointed out this size difference. The crew looked more like grains of rice, he said, maybe because that's what they ate (to the tune of 2,100 pounds of rice each week), while the audience members were more like baked potatoes.
And, in fact, the passengers did eat baked potatoes. They also ate chateau potatoes, fingerling potatoes, mashed potatoes, dauphinoise potatoes, french fries, potato pancakes, macaire potatoes, red potatoes, roasted garlic mashed potatoes, loaded double baked potato soup drizzled with bacon bits, chive mashed potatoes, potatoes with parsley, croquette potatoes, rissole potatoes, German potato salad, steak fries, french fries with parsley, garlic potatoes, and shoestring potatoes, among others.
Every day started out with breakfast either in the Rotterdam Dining Room or in the Lido Restaurant. I usually headed for the Lido, which presented an unholy buffet of cereals, muffins, smoked salmon, eggs, pancakes, sausages, custom-made omelets, and more. I also ate lunch there, another buffet extravaganza with salads (including macaroni, potato, and Waldorf), soups, full meals with meat and vegetables, stir fry, and assorted cheeses.
And, of course, there was bread.
Each day, the ship's baker and his staff prepared more than 20 different kinds of bread, including 120 regular loaves, 100 loaves of French bread, 4,000 dinner rolls, 800 croissants, and 800 Danish and sweet rolls.
Dinner was a sit-down affair featuring appetizers (fried hazelnut crusted Brie, portabella and ricotta crostini with smoked chicken breast), soups (lobster bisque, French onion), salads (Caesar, Greek), entrees (Alaskan amber lingcod fish and chips, honey-glazed pit ham), entrees from the grill (filet mignon a la Oscar, jumbo shrimp, and scallop sate) and dessert (praline mousse cake with caramel sauce, chocolate pot au creme with whipped cream, Yukon sourdough bread pudding, chocolate harmony with brandy sauce).
In between meals, it was possible (more possible at the beginning of the journey than at the end) to walk around the ship's deck (3.5 times around was one mile) or to just shuttle up and down between the different bars and coffee bars (stairs optional, as there were elevators) and the Terrace Grill, which served taco fixings and pizza a poolside. The cruise stopped at ports three times, but I noticed that most people managed to get back to the ship in time for dinner or lunch. For those who missed the dinner call, there was always room service. If that was not enough, a chocolate was placed on your pillow each and every night.
Now I'm back on shore, my clothes only a little tighter than before the cruise. I think it's because the ever eager-to-please chefs were happy to steam my lingcod and because I chose the sugar-free dessert options every night (Jell-O, butterscotch pudding, vanilla ice cream) and the diabetic muffins at breakfast.
Or maybe it's because you can only do so much damage in a week.
The Zandaam, part of the Holland-America cruise line, is now on a three-week cruise through the Panama Canal to the Caribbean. I'm glad I'm not on it. I'm not sure how long I could have chosen Jell-O over chocolate cake with orange Grand Marnier sauce.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on obesity.