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Differences In Food Cultures: Mindless Eating On 5th Avenue

Over the summer I collect ‘little stories’; these snippets that might seem normal to an American living in the United States, but they are my ‘little stories’ because they are situations, conversations, images of how Americans approach food and meals that seem so culturally different to my adopted France. Here is the second ‘little story’ observed on a crowded 5th Avenue in New York City.

If you missed the first ‘little story’ you can read it here: Differences Between Food Cultures, Why Can’t Parents Say No?

Differences Between French and American Food Culture: Mindless Eating


At a food fair, barbeque, the beach or wherever the summer is relaxing, it is quite common in America to see in a crowd someone who is eating and walking, working, or on their phone. Could we consider this mindless eating? (Probably).

mindless eating

But does eating like this really make a difference in how we appreciate food? Can we truly taste and enjoy what we are eating if we are doing something else at the same time, such as walking or watching television or checking social media on our smartphones?

If the food is simple and we are just eating it to stop hunger or out of habit does it really matter in the long-term if we don’t always focus on exactly what we are eating? (If you ask a French person they would probably say yes).

But I think there is a line that is crossed with eating certain foods that are in an ‘elite’ category. Like sushi.

Eating Sushi While Walking on A Crowded 5th Avenue

There are foods that I consider beautiful. Sushi is in this category. Just take a look for yourself or close your eyes and think of how sushi looks to you. C’mon—this is just pure delicacy.

mindless eating

So it was pure shock when I observed a woman walking down 5th Avenue with a plate of sushi in one hand and chopsticks in the other. Eating sushi.

The street looked like this:mindless eating

And it was hot out. And dusty. And busy. And noisy. And dirty. Even if I love and adore Manhattan, summer sizzling days on the New York City streets are no place for me to feel ‘peaceful.’

mindless eatingAnd on this day in early July, 5th Avenue was very crowded. We were all being shuffled down the avenue, the right side of the sidewalk the stream of bodies heading away from Central Park and the left side heading towards it. And walking along in front of us was a young woman eating her sushi in the crowds with the noise, dust, and dirt. mindless eating

This was just wrong! It crossed the line. Eating beautiful food while walking is just wrong. Eating a delicacy standing up on a crowded noisy street is just wrong. Eating from chopsticks while walking in noise and dirt is just wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

This is mindless eating at its worst because it makes beautiful food not be appreciated as it should, as a privileged taste of art.

Why isn’t food as sacred in America as it is in other countries? Do we have too much of it? Not enough fresh foods? Not enough food culture to understand that we should be sitting down eating foods like sushi and savoring this delicacy?

What do you think? (Am I being too harsh)?

Differences in Food Cultures: How To Stop Mindless Eating

Now that I am off my soapbox, I will share my three key food appreciation tips that I stole from the French culture:

  • Eat sitting down.
  • Take time (a break) to eat.
  • Treat food like it is sacred (because it is).

Most French people eat like this. Mindful eating is part of the French food culture and this is a difference with the American food culture. In America there is too much mindless eating. We are too busy (perhaps) or just out of the habit of what old-fashioned eating was like a few decades ago.

If you feel that you want to appreciate your meals better and have a more mindful approach to eating, here is a book I recommend.

Do you want to lose weight too? Focusing on our meals and the food we eat can also help with weight control. I challenge you to eat for one day with complete focus on everything you put in your mouth. Eating without any distractions, eating sitting down, eating without a phone next to you.

Let me know how it goes. And if you have a story to tell, please share.

And lastly if you see that nice woman on 5th Avenue, walking along and eating from her beautiful tray of takeout sushi, take her arm and lead her to a quiet spot, sit her down and ask for a bite.

Do you want to follow the ‘little stories’ series this summer? If you wish to receive new articles directly in your inbox, you can subscribe below. Your email will remain private and you won’t miss an article or the monthly newsletters. Subscribe by clicking here: Subscribe to BrightonYourHealth or on the button below. And I always appreciate when you share my articles.

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Thanks for your support. Warmly, Mary

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2 Responses to Differences In Food Cultures: Mindless Eating On 5th Avenue

  1. Sonya July 21, 2015 at 01:45 #

    I love this “series”! I find it fascinating. I just read an article from the 1990’s where the writer was hypothesizing that being stressed while eating is the reason that the French have such lower rates of heart disease even though their cholesterol levels are just as high. He was comparing them to the British for simplicity. He wrote about how the cortisol hormones are antigenic (right word?) to insulin. I think that there are many factors going on, but that motivated me to slow down for every meal! I’ve been rushing breakfast because it’s so small, but I actually don’t have to and today you and he have really encouraged me to slow down and enjoy that meal too! Anyway, I don’t think you’re being too harsh; you wouldn’t have thought to ask that if you were insensitive 🙂

    • mbrighton July 23, 2015 at 15:56 #

      Sonya! Thanks for your comment ! Stress does increase cortisol hormones, I wouldn’t be surprised that the French, who enjoy their sit-down meals, have lower cortisol rates. Thanks for your comment about being harsh-sometimes I feel too ‘critical’when I see how some people treat food. Have a nice —slow— day.

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