Criticize the French as you will, and I have been known to do so, we must give them this: Even though they eat many rich things, they are not as obese as we Anglophones. The Americans as we hear constantly, and accurately, are especially fat. Credit must be given where it is due.
Why is this? This interesting and well written article offers a lengthy explanation. It devotes itself to singing the praises of the French approach to cooking and eating, which involves sitting down at home for multi-hour meals (they even eat lunch at home), concern about quality and preparation, the devotion to food as pleasure rather than duty, to good restaurants as cultural shrines. We Anglo-Saxons are supposed to feel that we are missing something. And we are. But being part of one culture rather than another by definition means you are “missing something.” The implicit message is that we should become more like the French. I take away a simpler message.
What the article really boils down to is portion control. The French eat smaller quantities of very tasty things. We eat mountains of mediocre tasting things. We are not going to have food of routinely high quality here because we don’t care. But we should eat less of what is available. That is the whole story.
One can achieve portion control by observation and self-discipline, without adopting all of the, in some degree admirable, culinary practices of the French. Any attempt to get Americans to adopt the French attitude toward food more generally is both doomed and wrongheaded. We are simply never going to pay the opportunity cost of spending five hours a day on meals. We are a competitive society and we would rather, figuratively “eat the lunch” of our competitors, whether in the next cubicle, or in a rival business, than waste too much time or thought on the literal consumption of our own. I am perfectly satisfied with our approach. Food is fuel. I eat at my desk, often three meals per day. If one could take a pill instead of spending hours per day eating, that would be progress. Of course, in America it would immediately be mandatory to do this. But we would swiftly get used to it and reserve “eating” for special occasions like children’s birthday parties. “Do you remember when people used to ‘eat’, like, all the time? How weird!”
But, France is France, and superior food and drink is an element of their national greatness. I say this in complete seriousness. One of my favorite books is an extended hymn of praise to French food, wine and general attitude toward the pleasant things in life. So, I don’t begrudge them their ways. But we are different, and have different priorities and I don’t think less of us as a consequence.