Take pleasure in eating
In my personal experience, the eating culture in America is quite different from the eating culture in Europe. It isn’t so much about the dishes on the Old Continent or the traditional ways of preparing them then it is about the ways of eating. They just take much more pleasure in eating than Americans do. There is a balance between the way they eat, their attitude toward food and the rigidity of meal times — that is to say, fast food at any point of the day isn’t a regularity.
Food tradition is more existent in Europe — and you can take your pick of France, Spain, Iceland, Bulgaria and even the British Isles. They have their old-and-proven traditional dishes, and they sell well even under pressures from fast food chains. What I am trying to say, though, is that they take more time eating and therefore enjoy their food more than Americans do — or at least, more than Northeastern Americans do. The southern-most point I’ve been to is Charleston, S.C.
My proof is in personal experience. I spent a semester in Paris, and apart from being among pretentious Parisian students, I noticed they take at least an hour and a half to eat lunch. And the same goes for dinner. Most of my friends in New Jersey gulp down their Cokes and finished their fries in five minutes flat. Don’t get me wrong, it’s impressive, but their stomachs get more of the food than their taste buds. Maybe that’s suitable for some of the junk they sell at Subway, Wendy’s and Starbucks.
That brings me to the idea of food as nutrition. There is a good article by Wendell Berry titled “The Pleasure of Eating,” where he says we must treat food as a process of farming, labor, care, observation, etc. We instead treat it as nutrition. This isn’t to say there aren’t nutritionally healthy foods in America, but the fact that consumers nowadays watch what they eat according to nutrition completely invalidates the pleasure of eating. Au Bon Pain, the not-so-aptly-named, Boston-based “bakery,” displays the calories of their products in order to inform consumers. But all that does is creates a completely calorie-based eating habit. Berry recommends we all educate ourselves on where our food comes from and how it is produced — this is not to dissociate people from eating meat — in order to fully enjoy food. I think that is the case in Europe, or at least those European countries who have retained their food cultures.
It just isn’t about the calories in France and Italy, not to mention Ireland — they eat meat for breakfast, lunch and dinner, with lots of tea in between. In essence, none of those countries care about calories as much as they care about food quality and preparation, and therefore, about eating pleasure. Time and process both play a major part in this, and those are two qualities absent in American eating habits.
The statistics are reflective of this as well. According to the World Health Organization, the United States is third in the ranking for fattest nations, with 66 percent of its population considered overweight. Readers may call this prejudiced since the WHO is based in Geneva, and standards might be pretty high — for America. But it still holds some truth. The United States, despite its “carefulness” with food, is still fat, and France and Italy are nowhere to be seen in the top 10. This is because of better food preparation and, I would argue, and perhaps Berry would as well, due to the pleasure they take in eating.
One more difference I noticed were meal times. Of course there are the “McDo’s” in Paris and they drink American “Colas,” but that isn’t as prevalent at all times as it is in the United States. We, especially at the University, do not have time to eat at “regular” times. But we don’t even make the attempt anymore. Subway at 3 p.m. and dinner at Wendy’s at 10 p.m. is a regularity. In Europe, teens may do that, but they are educated by their parents to grow up and later in life keep up more rigid eating habits. Dinner is at 8 p.m. and breakfast is early in the morning. They drink their coffees in the morning and the afternoon with a pastry, but I hardly saw skinny French girls eating a Whopper in the afternoon while reading Foucault. That is with the exception of “Break in America” in the Latin quarter where Frenchmen went to wolf down a burger at any time, albeit with a fork and knife.
All right, this may all sound abstract and may not change anyone’s eating habits, but that is, by far, not what it’s meant to do. As Berry says, learn as much as you can about your food and where it comes from. Estrangement from food production is apparent everywhere in the world because of busy lifestyles and the people who could care less about food. But despite city lifestyles, we should put more effort into taking pleasure in eating. Don’t go to France and copy their lifestyles, because they are as flawed as Americans, believe me. Instead, try to create your own food culture, separate from the generic McDonald’s-based norm.
Aleksi Tzatzev is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in English and political science. He is an associate news editor at The Daily Targum.