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A Few Ways Europeans Do Food Better Than Americans

I recently spent 10 days in Europe (Germany and Italy), and while I was there I enjoyed observing and experiencing the differences between their food/food system and ours. I don’t think I need to tell anyone that the way things are done there versus here is very different. You may have heard of the “French paradox”, by which the French (and other Europeans) eat diets higher in saturated fat and grains, yet are healthier and leaner than Americans. Look at this infographic of obesity prevalence around the world to highlight that point.




So, what’s the big difference? I don’t know 100%. But here are some things I observed while I was over there. Some of them are things I think might explain the paradox, and some just amused me. Keep in mind that I was there for 10 days, so I’m sure there are things I may have missed or misread.


1. Soda costs more than booze, almost everywhere. A 12-ounce can of soda was 2.50 Euro almost everywhere I went. In Germany, you could get a liter of beer for 3.50 Euro. This receipt shows Grappas (a type of Brandy) also costs less than cola. I think we might all agree that reduce the availability and low price point of soda could go a long way in reducing how much of it people drink.



2. In Germany, sausage is a salad. Who needs vegetables when there’s meat? (That’s sarcasm, guys, vegetables are really important). 




3. Meat is locally grown. Most of the vegetables are, too. And it’s so fresh! Doesn’t it look delicious? Pretty sure we can again all agree that grass fed, happy, locally grown animals produce better tasting and healthier meat than industrially produced animals. Studies have shown grass fed meat is slightly higher in omega-3 fats than grain fed, and my numerous n=1 experiments have shown that it tastes far better.




4. Their large portion is our extra small. Or in Starbucks speak, “short”. Which I’ve noticed isn’t on the big menu and generally has to be asked for at many locations. Italians still drink lattes and macchiatos, but they don’t drink 30 ounces of them pumped full of pumpkin or caramel syrup.



5. We say “soda”, they say “water”. Apparently, “water” in Germany means seltzer. If you want that liquid we think of as water, you ask for “still water”. And it’s kind of hard to find.


6. There is no such thing as a supermarket. In Florence, our host told us that a few blocks over we’d find a “large supermarket with everything you could want in there”. Turns out it was smaller than the Washington Street Whole Foods and the Central Square CVS. All of the cookies, chips, and snacks were in one small aisle and fresh food was abundant. It had everything I  could ever want, but I’m sure some Americans might disagree with me.



A few non- food related things I noticed…

1. Many have active commutes. In Munich, the bike lane was part of the sidewalk and just as wide. In Florence, cars can only drive in the city with special permit, so biking and walking is a regular form of commuting.



2. They get over 21 vacation days per year, NOT including holidays. One Swiss man I met at a beer hall told me he was mad that he only got 24 days instead of 27, and that he felt bad for my paltry 14 days. Hey, maybe those extra vacation days reduce stress and inflammation!


Have you observed anything interesting while living/traveling overseas?

This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. Brian Fobi

    Another important aspect of European dining is that the average time that French, German and Italian people take to eat a meal is much longer than what Americans take. I won’t pretend to understand the science behind it, but I’ve been told that eating large quantities of food very quickly causes a more acute spike in blood sugar that causes all sorts of detrimental health outcomes. Taking a minimum of 25 minutes to eat a meal, as is typically the case in France, will contribute less to fat accumulation even if the calorie / fat / sugar profiles are exactly the same.

  2. Isa Terzi

    Great blog Alex.

    One thing that I have noticed and in my mind makes a big difference is the food portions between US and Europe. You mentioned this about drinks but same goes for the food as well. We are so used to getting our big plates loaded up with mountain of food. Maybe this is a cost thing or part of the European eating culture, but you’ll never get the same amount of food in Europe.

    One thing that really surprised me about your blog is the graph you shared up top. I was surprised to see 14% for Canadians. Culturally and geographically we are not that different. What is it that they are doing right and we are not?

  3. Neal

    Great post Alex!

  4. Alex Black

    Great points! Brian, I had forgotten to mention that in this post. In Italy we noticed that restaurants were pretty similar to the US in the time it took to order and get food, but after that we were left completely alone. I think not feeling rushed causes you to eat a little slower. Also, who wants to eat quality food like homemade pasta and fresh pancetta quickly? Eating large amounts of high carb food quickly would cause a blood sugar spike, but also eating slower has been shown to reduce the overall amount you eat because it gives your body time to actually recognize fullness. For many, eating slower = eating less = losing weight. There are even utensils you can buy with red and green lights to help you slow down eating. In case you don’t believe me… http://mydietdinnerware.com/

    Isa, I noticed the smaller food portions too. I had “saucers” in college that were the same size as most dinner plate sin Europe. I’m not sure what is different between us and Canada to result in their obesity rate being half ours. I wonder if they share more similarities with Europe – smaller portions, less fast food, locally grown food, etc. I will have to look more into that because you make a great point and I think it’s an interesting comparison. But maybe we have some people from Canada who could chime in?

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