Americans find the highway to hell is paved with pumpkin pie

WASHINGTON DAYS

Picking up a copy of USA Today this week, I read that 44 per cent of American mothers say their children's favourite meal is a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Inspired by this impressively precise statistic to learn more about the domestic habits of Americans, I undertook an exploration of the surveys published in the main US news publications this year.

All roads led to food.

My findings show that among other things, the average American eats 66 hot dogs a year, although men eat three times as many hot dogs as women; that 93 per cent of Americans eat hamburgers, of whom 81 per cent say cheese is their favourite topping; that the average US household consumes chicken at home between two and three times a week, baked or roasted in 68 per cent of cases, grilled or barbecued 42 per cent, and microwaved 12 per cent. And so on and so forth.

So much information did I glean on my cursory wanderings - stumbling along the way on polls showing that more Americans believe in God than in the Devil, that the average time Americans spend in the shower is 12.2 minutes, and that more Americans have heard of Indiana Jones than of Princess Diana - that I am in a position to supply most of the raw materials required to build a comprehensive anatomy of American society.

But I shall stick, for now, to answering the question that has launched a thousand women's magazines: What turns American men on?

With apologies to Chanel and Givenchy, it happens to be pumpkin pie. According to a survey conducted by Chicago's Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation, no fragrance spurs the rush of blood to the male organ with greater alacrity than one which evokes boyhood memories of hearth and home.

Among the men tested for the survey, a combination of pumpkin pie and lavender odours generated a 40 per cent increase in the penile blood flow; doughnuts and pumpkin pie, 20 per cent.

Whether the erotic effects of pumpkin pie derive from happy experiences at mom's kitchen table or whether pumpkin pie contains aphrodisiac qualities is a question which might best be answered by conducting similar experiments in a country where people are not given to partaking of America's traditional Thanksgiving Day dessert.

At any rate, the "Smell and Taste" findings suggest there is a reason why, according to exhaustive tests funded by the National Science Foundation, women experience anxiety and depression 30 per cent more often than men: they are blowing away their money in boutiques when all they need do is make a trip to the local supermarket.

On the other hand, a survey conducted on behalf of Devonsheer Melba Toast suggests that the nostalgia which adults feel for the time when they were children does not necessarily mean that they will be happy parents. When a representative group, both male and female, was asked what was the most stressful event of the year, the greatest number, 32 per cent, said "family holidays" followed by 25 per cent who said "family gatherings". Filling in income tax returns came third at 20 per cent.

This might help explain why the television set is on seven hours and 42 minutes a day in the average American household. Women, unsurprisingly, watch the most television: five hours and one minute. They are followed by men, at four hours and 17 minutes, and - this is a surprise - teenagers, at three hours and 14 minutes.

One reason why teenagers spend so little time in front of the television is that they believe programmes too often portray sex outside marriage.

According to a nationwide poll conducted by a Los Angeles firm, 77 per cent of teenagers shared this perception and 82 per cent believed that television ought to be teaching them to know right from wrong.

All of which tends to explain why, according to a Time magazine poll last January, 88 per cent of Americans think "ethical and moral standards" should be higher and 53 per cent believe that "the country is in deep and serious trouble".

Curiously, an identical number, 53 per cent, say they have "felt the direct presence of God", suggesting, contrary to fashionable conservative thinking, that the answer to the national crisis lies not in heaven but closer to home, in the national diet. "You are what you eat", the earthly sages say.

If Americans want to get serious about moral regeneration, they could make a start by easing up on the consumption of Devil's food, forsaking the cheeseburger; reducing the intake of protein-packed peanut butter and renouncing completely the pernicious temptations of pumpkin pie.

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