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?