Why are Americans so much fatter than the French?
From restaurants to fast food to cookbooks, portions are significantly bigger in the US.
Rozin sent some members of his research team, equipped with portable digital scales, on a mission to weigh portion sizes in restaurants in Paris and Philadelphia. These researchers would go into a local bistro or pizza joint, pull out their scales, and weigh a typical portion of food. When Rozin analyzed the results of this research, he found something quite startling: Across all the restaurants studied, American servings were about 25 percent larger. Even identical chain restaurants, which place a high value on standardization, differed between cities. Compare a McDonald’s or Pizza Hut in Philadelphia with one in Paris, and you’ll find the Philadelphian servings to be about 1.3 times larger. A large soda is not as large in Paris (530g) as it is in Philly (545g); a medium serving of French fries is 90g in the French capital, 155g in Philadelphia.
And it’s not just in restaurants that you find these differences. Larger portions are built into every corner of the US food environment. Prepared foods from American supermarkets have portion sizes about 1.4 times larger than those in French supermarkets. Even American cookbooks tend to up the serving size by a factor of 0.25 over their French counterparts.
Americans are living in the midst of an overwhelming abundance of convenient calories. They live in a supersized food environment. The French do not. And this makes all the difference when it comes to understanding gluttony in the modern world.
Here’s the deal: In America the attitude is ascetic, geared toward restraint and nutrition, but the environment is not. The American culinary landscape is a vista of mountainous servings of easily obtained, calorie-dense food. So despite the attitudinal drive toward health in the United States, we observe the environment-driven spread of obesity. The French, on the other hand, approach food the way Pope Gregory’s glutton would: with pleasure-seeking abandon. But the environment is structured so that these libertine tendencies are constrained.
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