The French Secret

By Ezra Klein

Think all that talk about the French being more conscious eaters than we are is just noise? Hardly. New OECD data brings the numbers, and they’re striking: We spend 74 minutes a day eating. The French spend 135 minutes. (The average resident of Turkey spends an impressive 162 minutes!) And to properly understand those numbers, remember that the French consume fewer calories than we do. So they’re spending more time preparing and eating less food. Which helps explain why their food is better and their people are thinner. But if not for our cornfed bomber pilots (and 22 million Russians), they’d all be speaking German, blah blah blah.

Some folks have taken this data to suggest that eating quickly ensures weight gain. Matt runs through some of that evidence below. But that’s not my understanding of the data. The OECD numbers don’t merely count time spent chewing. The actualy number we’re dealing with a subset of the “leisure” category, and so it more precisely measures how much leisure time is spent on things related to eating. This includes, I’d imagine, time related to meals, which means cooking. So my hunch is that what you’re really seeing here is a lot more time spent preparing food. Americans spend a lot less time because we eat a lot of takeout. Takeout, of course, is less healthy than your average homecooked meal, and is thus correlated to obesity.

3 responses to “The French Secret

  1. I’m confused. Do these times include cooking/preparing? Or is this just straight up chow time?

  2. I think these numbers reflect actual chow time.

    At first, I thought, “There is no way I spend 74 minutes a day eating.” But, upon further reflection, I’m pretty close to that number.

    For breakfast, I spend about 20-30 minutes eating (while catching up with the news on the internet); 20 minutes for lunch at my desk; and 30-40 minutes for dinner during the weekday (longer during the weekend) with my partner.

    I read somewhere that the French don’t eat lunch at their desks. They go out. They eat, drink, and socialize during a workday lunch that can last for more than an hour. Add to this an hour for breakfast and lunch, and it seems quite reasonable that the French spend nearly 2 hours eating on any given day.

  3. Steven Bass

    The Turkish number of 162 minutes does not separate eating from other personal care, so the number isn’t directly comparable.

    Also, it appears that Matt interprets the numbers correctly. I can’t vouch for all countries (and maybe part of the difference is a measurement difference between countries), but the figure for America comes from the American Time Use Survey, which separates eating from food preparation (http://www.bls.gov/tus/tables/a1_2007.pdf). The average American spends a little over a half hour a day on food preparation and cleanup.

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