Are The French Eating Too Much?
Updated: May 20, 2018
I will never forget my very first trip to the United States. I was part of a group of French business people and, after attending a trade show in Los Angeles for a few days, we were in the Dallas area in Texas looking for warehouses and facilities to stock products.
The first night, we decided to stay at the hotel, watch the presidential elections, and have pizza.
Our French concept of pizza was different from the general, American concept. The guys were hungry and decided to each go for a large pizza. I was not very hungry and chose a small size.
This is the way we would have ordered the pizza in France in those days: an individual pizza available in three different sizes depending on your appetite - approximately 5” for Small, 7” for Medium, 9” for Large.
When we paid the bill, we thought that life in Dallas was very expensive.
When we saw the stack of boxes ready to go, we realized that we had made a mistake. Yet, we pretended that we knew what we were doing.
When we got to our hotel around the corner, the doormen in uniform looked at us in awe and disbelief.
We ate what we could of that mediocre pizza, and we left a stack of boxes in the hallway, quite embarrassed about the greasy smell that emanated from it and started filling the nice, elegant hallway.
In another blog that you may have read (America in France: Good or Bad?), I talk about the American influence in the French society, mostly about the huge burgers that have invaded our Parisian tables.
In another blog, I talk about the assault of fast food.
Well, my Texan pizza episode would be less shocking today considering the landing of the gigantic pizza onto our French plates.
I remember being in Beaune, Burgundy last year. I ordered a salmon salad which I was savoring and admiring at the same time. I looked around me in the very crowded and noisy café at lunchtime, and I realized that 90% of the guests were eating a pizza, the size of which would equal to six, maybe eight slices in America.
One way or the other, this represents an increase in the French portions that is alarming and very unhealthy.
To you, American women who sometimes feel envious of French women, rest assured. Your complex might be over soon. There is no way that French women will stay thin at this rate, all the more so as their lifestyle appears to be more and more sedentary.
What triggered this change?
It is hard to really find the source of this problem - I think it is fair to call it a problem.
True, the French have always looked up to America. But why look up to burgers and pizza and make the serving sizes so much bigger than in America when we know that America has health problems due to obesity and excessive salt consumption, among many other issues?
I talked to a waiter in a restaurant in Paris. I cannot say for sure that he holds the key to the enigma, but here is what he had to say, which I found very interesting:
“Large portions are not only for burgers and pizza. All our dishes on the menu, all appetizers, all entrées, they are all huge. I mean, huge! Why? Because a few years ago, when the French really started struggling and had to tighten the belt, they expected to have enough food for two meals when they came to see us. So, we started carrying to-go boxes (*) so that people could take food home. It made them feel good to pay €15 for a big salad and to be able to take half of it home for another meal the next day. It felt that they were saving money, or they were getting a good deal.
But most people can’t stop eating. When they see the food in front of them, they keep eating, and pretty soon, there is nothing left on the plate! They used to be more disciplined, but now, they can’t stop eating. And if we start having less on the plate here, then they will go next door where the plate is more full. All they care about is the quantity nowadays.”
(*) To-go boxes were non-existent twenty years ago. Not only were the portions smaller, but also it was polite to leave a bit of food on the side of your plate, and absolutely rude, unheard of, to want to take it home....
I found this waiter’s remarks interesting, and I can only reflect on them and still be wondering where the problem really comes from... and where it leads to.
I don’t like bleak prospects, but there is hardly any glimmer of hope either… unless we learn from the 1970s when dietitians started having an impact and made the French aware of their bad eating habits. They turned “cuisine traditionnelle” into “nouvelle cuisine”, and that was a coup! - for more information, please watch my video on the Evolution of French Cuisine, Part I and Part II at
Will this unhealthy trend pass? Time will tell…