The best aspects of America’s easy food culture
America is the land of convenience, open 24 hours, coupons, fast food, take out, buy one get one free. You get the picture. And I love it. This whole fast spin on food is one part of what makes America great. When you live in America you get used to the capitalistic and always available access to what you want to eat-24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
And you know what? When you leave and move to another country, you miss it.
France has adapted some of American easy food culture habits but they have still kept food sacred
I have lived 11 years in France. You get used to the way the French approach food and you adapt. You have to. And knowing both food cultures, I believe that the way the French culture forces the consumer to make these extra efforts for food and meals is actually a positive thing.
Let me give you couple of examples of how it works where I live in France:
- You get a craving for take out pizza very late at night? Sorry, no one is delivering.
- You want to stop in the supermarket on a holiday because you forgot something for the dinner? Sorry, supermarkets closed.
- You want to take your family out for a cheap meal where kids eat free? Sorry, in restaurants kids don’t eat for free.
- Double coupons? Sorry, what is that?
Here is a list of America’s easy food culture habits that you may not even realize are totally American
As I said in the beginning of this article, I love the easiness and ways to save money in the American food system. With some planning, coupon cutting and shopping around you can potentially save a lot of money on your grocery bill and eating out at fast food and casual restaurants. I know, I have done it!
But all this easiness adds to America’s battle with the bulge (read why below) and removes some of the sacredness of food and dining. In fact, the capitalistic nature of food marketing and big competition in restaurant business keeps the fight for the food industry grabbing the consumer in whatever way it can. It always comes down to money. And it is not changing any time soon.
Here is my list of the top American easy food culture habits. I believe that the easy access to cheap fast food, processed foods, restaurant dining and constant always open grocery stores adds to the overweight problem in America. Note-I am not badmouthing these habits, just adding observations from knowing both the American and French culture.
Open 24 hours 7/7 While it is convenient to stop into your supermarket at 4 am to do the weekly shopping, these 24 hour supermarkets, like super business Walmart, do not encourage meal planning. Psychologically, knowing you can zip over to your market and get food at whatever time you need it, makes the approach to food less sacred and the choices we make sometimes less thought out and less healthy.
Coupons and double coupons Many of the coupon items you find in the newspaper inserts are for convenience and less healthy foods (and not fresh foods). If you are an avid coupon clipper and competitive food sales shopper you can really save a ton of money. Double coupons are fantastic! But what are you saving on? Often it is for the highly processed foods. (See my picture below).
Cheap or free kids meals It is incredible to me the high amount of casual dining restaurants that offer free kids meals with an adult meal ordered. Great! But when I see what is typically on these kids meals, no thanks. Chicken nuggets and fries are not healthy choices for kids and healthier kids options are available from the regular menu.
Grocery store open on holidays Why not run into the grocery store on a major holiday for that last-minute item you are missing? But the real culture shock (for me) is when I see the large crowds in the stores on holidays filling up their carts. This is a sign of a busy society that doesn’t have enough time to plan a holiday menu and shop in advance so that the holiday day off is a day off. And what about the staff of these grocery stores? Don’t they need a day off to enjoy some down time? Grocery stores open every day, even holidays, is a difficult cultural part of America that I find hard to accept. Stress also packs on the weight and we Americans do not have enough time to just relax.
Coupons and fidelity cards for franchise restaurants We Americans eat out. A lot. And when you have a frequent dining card, a 10$ off for your birthday dinner or a coupon for a meal, this encourages more restaurant dining. While I adore eating out, dining too often at these casual franchise restaurants means over indulging on calories, eating big portions and high calorie foods.
High amount of cheap fast food restaurants with drive thru, open 24 hours or very late Dollar value meals, or finding fast food coupons in the weekly circular (see picture below) helps to eat cheaply at fast food places. (Especially cheap when you see how much these meals cost in France!) But these fast food meals are too easy and cheap (that is the point, right?). And the drive thru? Add that to that easy food culture that helps to zip on in the drive thru and grab lunch or dinner. (C’mon we have all done it-I included).
Warehouse shopping BJ’s or Costco With a membership you can shop at one of these big warehouses for food. For the quantity, the prices are cheaper than at the normal supermarkets. Problem is that these over-sized products are easier to overeat and overbought. Studies have shown that bigger packaging means over eating.
Restaurant social media discounts, coupons and survey rewards Who doesn’t like a discount? ‘Like’ a page on Facebook to get money off your next restaurant visit, eat at a restaurant and call in for a survey on your experience for free appetizers at your next meal, and coupons in the mail and with the weekend newspaper inserts. Restaurants are in big competition and are experts on getting you to come in and back in again to their establishment. Regular restaurant dining adds a good couple inches to your waistline, even if you are careful what you order.
France to America Food Culture, What is Best?
Neither. A country’s culture is based on social and economic factors that are difficult to change. Both food cultures are a product of the desires of its consumers within the boundaries of what is economically feasible in each system. America, based on a more capitalistic system and more flexible and cheaper employment allows the food culture to be easy. France also wants to have a viable food industry but keep the sacredness of food because this is a big part of the French culture.
I would love to see some aspects of the American food culture expand over to France. What I miss is coupon clipping and competitive shopping for food that is on sale. It would be great to run into the grocery store on a holiday because I forget to buy a something I desperately need for my holiday meal.
But I live in France and just spend summers in America. And I adapt in France and learn to plan menus and food shopping in advance, and eat out less often because it is expensive. And it works. It keeps food sacred and the waistline thinner.
And while in America for the summer, we take full advantage of the fun and easy food culture and adapt to that too.
As always, I wish you all a healthy and happy summer filled with good memories (especially around food!). If you like this article and feel it could interest someone, I would greatly appreciate if you would share it. If you enjoy reading about Italian and European food and culture, there is more to come. You can subscribe to BrightonYourHealth newsletter here to get updates on articles. By subscribing, you can download your free E-report on international good health tips. Click below to get started.