One of my favorite things to do in other countries is visit the grocery store. The different types of foods, and the packaging and layout of what is available fascinate me. On my last trip I must have visited at least 6 or 7 markets.
What are some of the main differences?
Layout (road map) – in America once you’re inside the store you are bombarded by the huge bags of chips or jumbo bottles of soda on sale. Containers of processed foods full of sugar and multiple ingredients are everywhere, especially on the aisles.
In Europe they still have boxes of cookies and chips but they are contained within their perspective aisles with less variety. The ends of aisles contain food products that usually correspond with the aisle or a pickup food item for a quick meal such as some cheese, a sandwich or a drink.
Variety (options) – in Europe the amount of foods that can spoil are more prevalent- i.e. more fresh food abounds. There are many aisles of meats, cheeses, yogurts, fresh fruits, vegetables, etc. which are within the store, not just the perimeter. In America food that spoils exists but is contained within the perimeter of most stores.
Less Sweet – both countries like their sweets – no doubt about that. However, in Europe the plain varieties of great tasting yogurts abound. Yogurts with sugars exist, but are not the norm. Foods in Europe contain sugar but not to the sweetness of American foods.
Jams and Peanut (nut) Butter – a side point but one of interest. The Europeans are very into their jam they have on bread in the morning. America has jellies and jam but not in the varieties and amount in Europe. If you want peanut butter in Europe you will have to search for it and if you do find it, there may only be one brand similar to a Jiff or Skippy. I did not find any natural nut butters, at least in the regular grocery stores.
Cheeses (grass fed dairy) – cottage cheese does not exist in France or at least none of the stores I visited. I purchased something that looked like cottage cheese but it ended up being a whipped cheese that I did not care for. Of course the French like their frommage and the variety of cheeses are astounding and overwhelming. You could spend hours educating yourself on the types of cheeses, and each region in France has types that are common or can be purchased only in that area. The entire dairy comes from grass-fed cows (versus corn fed), which is preferable since grass-fed products contain richer amounts of omega-3 fats.
Ingredients – I spent a few hours looking at labels to compare. In America a packaged food could contain 50 ingredients and purchasing items with less than five ingredients is challenging. I found European packaged foods to have much fewer ingredients – somewhere between 5-10 but not at the level in America.
GMO’s (genetically modified organisms) – when Europe heard about the studies related to GMO’s many countries did away completely with GMO’s. Studies are mixed but this controversy is definitely one to keep in mind. In America, the 4 major GMO’s are corn, soy, canola/canola oil and sugar (anything not listed as 100% cane sugar).
Is there a take home message in all this?
Grocery stores in Europe are much easier to navigate with healthier options resulting in a healthier diet. There are more real whole fresh foods, with less processed foods, and processed foods that contain fewer ingredients. Unfortunately Europe is heading towards our way of eating more than a few years ago versus Americans going towards the European way.
If both countries embraced the original diet of clean whole non-processed foods with minimal sweets and treats the world would be a healthier place free of many Western disease processes.
Coming back to America, I will miss the amazing plain organic yogurts and cheeses. However, since my favorite food is almond butter if I lived in Europe I’d have to make my own – a risk I’d gladly take living in a healthier eating environment.