If you want to get to know another country, check out its food laws, which determine everything from what products are available on store shelves to how and where people can enjoy a meal.
Some countries have very strict regulations about the food people can consume, taking into consideration everything from nutrition to the safety of the ingredients. As a result, these nations may limit the availability of certain products to promote healthy consumption or cultural eating habits. What is considered safe in the US may not be considered that way elsewhere.
The act of consuming food links every human on earth - but, just like every person abides by their own food rules, every country enacts laws that reflect its own values, tastes, and needs.
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Hungry People Can Legally Steal Food In Italy
In the classic Victor Hugo novel Les Misérables, the character Jean Valjean is imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his hungry family. His unjust imprisonment is an indictment of a legal system that criminalizes poverty.
It seems Italy would agree with Hugo. In 2016, the country's highest court ruled that starving people can steal small amounts of food necessary for their survival. The case the court ruled on involved an unhoused man who stole $4.50 in cheese and sausage from an Italian store. The court stated in its ruling:
The condition of the defendant and the circumstances in which the seizure of merchandise took place prove that he took possession of that small amount of food in the face of an immediate and essential need for nourishment, acting therefore in a state of necessity.
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France Banned Ketchup In School Cafeterias
People often develop lifelong eating habits in childhood, so it's important they learn positive habits. And it's far easier to learn good habits than to un-learn bad ones.
In France, good eating habits are not only about healthy eating - they're also about preserving the French way of eating. That is why French schools have banned ketchup from cafeterias. The 2011 move came in a bid to curtail unhealthy eating habits and embrace ones that are more in line with French norms. After all, ketchup is known to be a sugary condiment.
Officials relented on one small point: Schools can serve ketchup once a week, but only alongside fries.
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Chile And Mexico Banned Cartoon Cereal Mascots
The link between sugar and obesity is well established. As such, many public health initiatives focus on encouraging people to consume less sugar in a bid to promote healthier eating habits.
In an effort to reduce its high obesity rate in children, Chile took an unconventional approach: It forbids companies from advertising high-sugar, high-fat food products to youths, including sugary cereals. Consequently, cereal boxes can no longer feature mascots.
How successful have Chile's efforts been? The jury is still out, but one 2023 study concluded that the regulation's impact on childhood obesity was “negligible.”
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Ireland Does Not Consider Subway's Bread Actual Bread
Is it a sandwich if it doesn't have bread?
This question is relevant in Ireland, where the sandwich franchise Subway has operated since 1998. Twenty-two years later, an Irish court ruled that the bread Subway uses cannot be considered bread, as its ratio of sugar-to-flour far exceeds the legal limit. In other words, Subway's bread is considered more of a confectionary than bread.
A spokesperson for the sandwich chain responded to the ruling:
Subway's bread is, of course, bread. We have been baking fresh bread in our restaurants for more than three decades, and our guests return each day for sandwiches made on bread that smells as good as it tastes.
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Little Debbie Swiss Rolls Are Banned In Norway And Austria
Little Debbie snack cakes are a childhood staple for many Americans. Among the company's most popular treats are Swiss Rolls, which comprise chocolate cake rolled around sweet cream and covered in a fudge icing.
These soft and sugary pre-packaged treats aren't welcome everywhere, however. Norway and Austria outright ban the sale of Little Debbie's Swiss Rolls. Why? Surprisingly, it has nothing to do with the sugar content. Instead, the problem is with some of the artificial dyes in the rolls: Yellow 5 and Red 40.
Although the US Food and Drug Administration is not concerned, other countries are more circumspect. They cite evidence that these and similar colorants may cause cancer over time. For this reason, Austria and Norway have banned all products containing the dyes.
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Singapore Banned Chewing Gum For More Than A Decade
Few things are as obnoxious as stepping on a wad of fresh, sticky gum. Lawmakers in Singapore agree, and in 1992 they implemented a unique law: Stores could neither sell nor import chewing gum.
What was behind the ban? According to The Guardian:
The trigger, apparently, was the havoc that gum could cause on the country's extremely expensive new underground system - by covering the door sensors, or simply making a mess of the seats. The punishment for illegal gum trafficking was never corporal, but even for a first offence it can include a fine of up S$100,000 and up to two years in prison.