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Food and Eating in France—Vive La Différence! (Part 1)

Americans’ eating habits have a poor reputation here in France. The stereotype is that we eat too much. Moreover, too much of the “too much” is unhealthy processed food.

We also eat without appreciating our food, and we don’t take time to enjoy the food or socialize while eating. For instance, lunch at work might be a sandwich and soft drink consumed alone in front of our computer at our desk while we keep working.

The result of this style of eating is a population with two-thirds of its members overweight. Even worse, nearly 40 percent of Americans are considered obese.

In 2020, the average weight of an American male was 200 pounds and an American female was 170 pounds. That same 170 pounds is the average weight for a French man; the French woman averages 138 pounds.

American foods sold in France

Another generalization is that American families don’t put time or effort into the presentation of food nor do we sit down to a leisurely dinner together in the evening. A global ranking of countries based on how long families spend eating and drinking each day puts France at the top (2 hours, 13 minutes) and the United States at the bottom (1 hour).

A beautiful presentation of salmon with rice

Certainly, these stereotypes were true for me growing up in Iowa. We had one-course meals that consisted of food served in heaping, family-style bowls.  The emphasis was on nutrition.

As for presentation, the food needed to be hot if it was supposed to be hot, or cold if it was supposed to be cold. Quantity was valued. Of course, it also needed to taste good.

This way of eating is quite a contrast to the French approach, which one researcher describes as a “sensual, hedonistic relation to food.”

Here’s a picture taken in the boulangerie next door to my home in France. With such beautiful choices, however could a person pick the dessert they wanted?

Palate-pleasing desserts that also delight your eyes

This is the same bakery where Expresso picks up a fresh baguette most mornings, a section of which he leaves on my dining table for breakfast. Occasionally, he buys pastries. And what a treat! The croissants are fluffy and buttery, and the praline pastry is awesome. But those are special fare. Most days, like the French here, I start my day with coffee and fresh bread, occasionally adding some fruit.

I’ll describe other big differences in part 2 of “Food and Eating in France—Vive La Différence!”