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Telling Your Story

A Contrast in Food Cultures

Europe's take on food and shopping is a sharp contrast to what Americans are used to

The European food model increasingly has influenced United States foods over the past several years. But, what are the differences between foods and shopping in Europe compared to the U.S.?

I recently interviewed a couple Americans who have lived in Europe for an extended period of time. Jeff Oestmann is President and CEO of an ethanol plant and formerly lived in Switzerland and Germany. Jacob Rodman is currently on international rotation with a public accounting firm, living in the Netherlands. 

Both Jeff and Jacob have traveled extensively so they had an open mind when it came to food while living in Europe.

As Jacob settled in, he longed for a large store where he could buy everything at once. However, "the local grocery stores are small and have a limited number of choices compared to the vast stores in the U.S.," he says. "There are just far fewer options. For instance, there are three types of mustard to choose from rather than dozens."

Many European neighborhoods enjoy separate businesses dedicated to specialty foods such as wine, bakeries, butchers, chocolatiers and käse (cheese).

Frequent shoppers
Europeans shop more frequently than Americans - many go on a daily basis, and expect to return to the store the next day.

"Since the shops are small and close-by in almost all neighborhoods of the city, this is a relatively easy and painless task compared to the long drive and large quantities we buy in the U.S.," says Jeff.

He also mentioned that the refrigerators are smaller than we are used to in the U.S. His family got used to shopping several times a week rather than one big shopping trip each week. 

Related: Why Moms Matter to Your Farm

A key difference that Jacob noticed is that the bread goes bad in two days.  Conversely, the Dutch think it's strange that U.S. bread can somehow stay fresh for weeks. "To them, it doesn't seem healthy," says Jacob.

Another difference: "The nutritional content label is on the front of the packages and makes you more aware of what you are buying," says Jacob. "Sometimes I just don't want to know!" 

Jeff discussed that wherever he is traveling to in the world he prefers to adapt to the local culture. He's found that if he expects to eat American food, he winds up being disappointed. Instead, he prefers to enjoy the local cuisine. He primarily ate poultry, lamb, and pork while in Europe.

Another difference is that the pasta is not cooked as long and the sauces are very good. Jeff likes to ask the locals where to eat and he has never been disappointed by taking their recommendation. 

Have the European influences changed how they thought about food? Jacob said that while living in the Netherlands, he buys more pre-cut fruit and vegetables as they seem more available and are as cheap as buying the whole thing and cutting it up himself. He enjoys shopping more frequently in the quaint neighborhood streets.

Jeff says his tastes changed after living abroad. For example, he now prefers higher quality cheeses; in France he learned to pair his food with other foods or wine. He also appreciated how the foods were less processed. 

When Jeff would travel back the U.S. he would overdo fast food and processed foods and tended to gain weight. Both Jacob and Jeff mentioned that when they came home to the United States they craved the same three foods - steak, barbeque, and Mexican food.

The opinions of LaVell Winsor are not necessarily those of Farm Futures or the Penton Farm Progress Group.

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