One afternoon last summer, I was enjoying lunch with my old boss, who had just returned from a visit to our magazine’s headquarters in Paris. She shared with me her experience dining with the French staff.
At precisely 1 PM, every member of the staff, young, old, female, and male, exited their offices and filed down the stairwell. On the second floor of their building was an expansive, sunny atrium, doubling as a cafe and meeting point for workers and their guests. Along one wall lay a long salad bar, where fresh ingredients and warm breads lay in mounds for the taking. Chefs plated finely cooked meats on the adjoining side, and in the room’s center sat several bowls of yogurt, granola, and fruits. Next to that, a shorter table displayed fine pastries and chocolates, individually portioned onto palm sized dishware.
My boss observed as each of the women she had met strolled throughout the room, creating balanced platters from every station, dessert included.
She was invited to a table where the magazine’s staff dined together. Over the next hour, they discussed fashion, food, and Parisian life, never once commenting on the work they were doing, the amount of food they were eating, or the size of their waists.
Some left food on their plates; some did not. Each of them ate slowly and thoughtfully.
Following lunch, the group climbed one flight of stairs to an outdoor terrace, where they enjoyed cappuccinos, espressos, and further conversation. Finally, after a ninety minute dining period, they returned to the office.
My boss and I spent a long time discussing what to us was a very foreign ritual. Prague illustrated to me a far more American sensibility than a European one; with a history of betrayal by their European neighbors, many Czechs I knew looked instead towards the US for inspiration. Coffee to-go, fast food, and long work days without lunch breaks became increasingly common sights throughout my time there.
There are many things I love about my American roots, but the presentation of food and health in our society is not one of them. People have proselytized over the adage “French women don’t get fat” for years. I don’t pretend to know the answer to the whys, but I always observed that very few European women display a negative relationship with food, while likely more than half the female population of the US most definitely do.
Health is about far more than food. Taking my time with each meal allows each one to be a form of relaxation and delight, rather than an enemy or nuisance. I have both my parents and my time abroad to thank for my ability to treat food as an enjoyable, essential part of life. But I’m far too aware that in this country, I remain in the minority.
Do you think the American lifestyle makes good health impossible?