How We Can Learn To Eat More Mindfully By Observing Other Cultures! (2/3)

Bigger is Better…or is it?

Following my first blog, here is some more curious observation of foreign cultures and their eating habits in our quest to eat more mindfully. Having grown up in the US, I first moved to Rome as a University student in the 80’s. With my fellow students, we were shocked at the tiny size of things like “gelato” or “espresso”. We were used to unlimited refills on coffee and baseball sized ice cream scoops rather than the Italian golf ball size! My children and their friends travelling to the US today are still culture-shocked by “free refills” and “all-you-can-eat” options which are simply not available elsewhere in the world. By American standards, European food portions are tiny, but living abroad for over 30 years now, I have come to observe things in a different light. Thanks to smaller portion sizes, Europeans eat healthy, satisfying servings without feeling like they are depriving themselves or that they “deserve” more.

My second observation…The Big Gulp!

American portion sizes are huge in comparison to most countries in the world and Americans eat more calories daily than most. This is certainly partially due to the fact that food is cheaper in the US than almost anywhere else. According, to the USDA, as a percentage of consumer expenditures, the US spends less than any of the 83 other countries for which the USDA tracks data. Cheap, abundant food allows for large portion sizes and can encourage waste.

It has been shown that since the 70’s food portion sizes have increased both inside and outside the home. Hamburgers sizes have expanded by 23%, soft drinks by 52% and snacks by 60%. Studies published by the American Public Health Association have shown that food portions now exceed federal standards (I didn’t even know there were federal standards!). The problem is, whether we want so much food or not, the more we are served, the more we tend to eat. Interestingly, these increases in portion sizes have continued in parallel with increasing body weight with adult obesity in the US going from around 14% in the 70’s to 38 % in 2016. According to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, North American consumer’s waste more food than any other area in the world. However, Europe comes in second and we have all observed that, unfortunately, many industrialized countries are following in the trend in overweight and obesity.

What can we learn?

What size are your portions? If you are in the US, portion sizes and waste remain greater than anywhere else. Let’s be inspired by other countries “menus” and then focus not only on our own body cues to eat when hungry and stop when full, but to serve up less from the get-go. This will coincide nicely with the trending “sharing economy” or “uberized communities” where we share rather than waste. What are your thoughts? Maybe we as a culture and society we can become simultaneously more conscious or mindful and less wasteful and teach our children to do the same. What if we try not to judge those “small portions” any more as “not enough” but to raise our awareness about what will truly serve us best right now. By the way, did you know that the word “menu” in French has two meanings? It means either the “series of plates served at a meal” or “tiny”….bigger is definitely not better…

Read my next blog “Proud to be…” where I compare foreign cultures with the American culture around quality…3/3