One thing I’ve noticed since returning to the US is American people’s irreverence to food. And by this I mean a lack of respect for, or attention to, the act of eating, especially the consumption of meals.
It may surprise you to read this, because of course Americans are know for being big eaters, and indeed a significant portion of my posts on this blog are about various Americana food items (such as peanut butter) and how much Americans love them. Americans love to eat. I’m not saying they don’t love their food. They do. But they don’t treat it well or give it the time of day.
I’ve repeatedly noticed Americans doing other things while eating their meals, especially lunch – eating while typing on your computer, eating while making a phone call, eating while messaging on your smart phone, eating while walking, eating while standing up, eating while watching television, eating while reading a book, etc. At the office, it is very common to see people eating at their desks, but not only using their desk as a table – rather, they are facing their computer, with their food placed to the side, and are working at their computer while making sideways pecks on their food.
It’s is a though eating in and of itself isn’t a sufficiently important or worthwhile activity to be done solo. Why do you have to be doing something else while eating? Why don’t you just eat? Why don’t you sit down, away from your computer / phone / TV / book, and just enjoy your meal? I don’t enjoy my food unless I focus on it fully. I find it so unsatisfying to eat a meal while doing something else; at the end of it, I feel as though I haven’t eaten. I’m convinced this is part of the reason why many Americans are overweight – they don’t give their food, or the act of eating, the time of day.
I compare this to other countries I’ve lived in, where the thing that people do while eating is… eat. And, maybe, talk. In many European countries, the meal is a ritual. Many French people will sit down three times a day (at a table, whilst doing nothing else) to eat a meal; both lunch and dinner are hot meals that have been cooked and prepared. When I worked in an office in southern France, I remember my coworkers would take 1 to 1.5 hour lunch breaks to go to the restaurant next door and eat a full hot meal. I never saw anyone eating a sandwich at their computer.
When I worked in the Netherlands, the entire office would sit down at the kitchen table and eat lunch together as a team every day. The Dutch love sandwiches, so we we were eating a cold lunch, but the point is, time and importance were assigned to the meal. We would often spend a full 30 minutes sitting, eating together, and talking. In some of the African countries where I lived, I noticed that often people don’t even talk during a meal – people are so focused on the food, and the act of eating, that they go silent. In the beginning, I would try to make conversations during a meal. I quickly realized that people were often annoyed that I was talking; I was distracting them from their enjoyment of the food by making them respond. Just shut up and eat.
So, next time you American reader eat a meal, please try just eating a meal. And I really hope you haven’t been eating a sandwich while reading this.