You don’t have to go to France to know that the French take mealtime seriously. From seeking out quality ingredients to cooking from scratch to long, leisurely Sunday lunches, mealtime is no joke in France. One aspect of French culture that I’ve adapted to and admire is the fact that the French make it a priority to sit down and enjoy their meal. Let me tell you why I’ve embraced this with open arms.
The one part of French food culture I love the most
I eat fast. It’s instinctive. I know that no one is going to steal my food, yet somehow I mimic my dog’s eating habits more than my French husband’s. I think I first started to pick up the pace while working in NYC. Rushed corporate lunches and tiny lunch breaks meant that eating was something I did on the fly and was more of a task and not a social occasion. I’d eat quickly before jetting off to the next thing.
After moving to France, I wanted to untrain myself of this bad habit. What’s the rush? Why do we always have to be multitasking?
France has helped me slow down on all fronts. My life is simpler. I rarely have people to see or places to be. There’s no 6:02 a.m. Midtown Direct train to catch these days. At mealtime, I try to take time to enjoy my food. It’s the French food culture habit I love the most. Eat slowly. Eat simply. Enjoy.
Be present in the moment.
But before I get too into this post, let me point out that NOT all French people are star chefs who prepare their family’s daily meals from scratch. French people aren’t born with innate food knowledge and don’t know all about cheeses and wines like the back of their hand. I almost feel silly having to say that but sometimes people assume that France is some kind of utopia where its citizens do everything perfectly. No, that’s not the case. My response to that is, well, it depends on the person and their upbringing and interests.
French people DO eat McDonald’s and France’s frozen food store Picard is a favorite for a reason. Not everyone buys fresh produce at the marché for homemade French meals. Not all French people have long, drawn-out meals made from the healthiest ingredients. To a degree, that idealistic mealtime notion from days past has faded from view in recent years. French food culture is changing.
Overall, the French prioritize mealtime and quality food, but there are exceptions. Sometimes it’s necessary to eat on the go. I’m careful on my blog to not idealize French culture to the point of being ridiculous. The French are not perfect — no one is, right? — so to put all French things up on a pedestal for the sole fact that it’s French would be bizarre. But when it comes to French meals and eating, I do feel the French get a lot right.
That’s not to say Americans get everything wrong. I’m not saying that at all. It’s not so black and white. Many Americans prepare healthy food and make mealtime a priority. It’s just that in France, I feel it’s more widespread and ingrained in the culture. It’s less about what the individual decides to cook and more about what the society does as a whole.
In France, the importance of a proper sit-down meal is still alive and well for the most part. The proof is in the culture.In France, the importance of a proper sit-down meal is still alive and well. The proof is in the culture and here's why I love it.Click To Tweet
Take, for example, the following points about French food culture and lifestyle:
- Stores close at lunchtime and tend to closer earlier in the evening than stores in the USA. This allows employees to spend mealtime at home with their families, if they so choose.
- Many stores are closed on Sundays, especially in small towns. There’s no option to pick up overtime hours if the store isn’t even open! This allows for downtown with family or to just relax.
- School-age children have time to enjoy their lunch at school. At my high school, my lunch break was barely 30 minutes long. French kids get well over an hour (or even 2) for lunch. Schools have cafeterias that prepare wholesome food.
- Fewer fast food and prepackaged food options in general (though this is changing)
- Employers often encourage a “true” lunch break for employees. That’s not to say that NO French people have a rushed lunch at their desk, but the overall mindset is that lunch is to be enjoyed.
- Dinnertime tends to be later in the evening, at least by American standards, and there aren’t as many extracurricular activities for kids after dinner and stores tend to be closed, so there’s time to unwind/not as much to do after dinner outside the home.
I think in our fast-paced American society, it’s been drilled into our heads that we need to be productive and constantly achieving. Achieving what? I don’t know. We’re made to think that we should be doing something and we shouldn’t waste time. Because of that, mealtime goes by the wayside and is often an afterthought as we move through our day, crossing tasks off our to-do lists.
Maybe mealtime should be more of a focus, even on days when we’re busy and our minds are racing a mile a minute. The act of sitting down to a meal forces us to take a mental time out. It forces us to focus on those around us. It makes us appreciate the simple things in life like the taste of the food before us.
From a health perspective, it’s proven that eating slower is better for digestion. Also, when you eat a leisurely meal, your body has time tor register when it’s full. It takes about 20 minutes for your mind to tell your stomach that you’re satiated. Eating more slowly prevents overeating.
So have I learned to slow down and enjoy my meals? Has French food culture rubbed off on me at all?
I’ve definitely made progress and that’s a step in the right direction. I think it’s important to take stock of what’s important to you in life and then do your best to honor those things and live your life accordingly. Not everyone is going to want to eat long/leisurely meals at the table all the time and that’s fine. We’re all different and live unique lives. Learning how other cultures do mealtime might spark something within us and change our habits for the better. I’m on my way….
Has French food culture caused you to re-evaluate how you cook and/or eat?
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