The meaning of food in our lives: a cross-cultural perspective on eating and well-being

J Nutr Educ Behav. 2005 Nov-Dec:37 Suppl 2:S107-12. doi: 10.1016/s1499-4046(06)60209-1.


Humans are biologically adapted to their ancestral food environment in which foods were dispersed and energy expenditure was required to obtain them. The modern developed world has a surplus of very accessible, inexpensive food. Amid the enormous variety of different foods are "super" foods, such as chocolate, which are particularly appealing and calorie dense. Energy output can be minimal to obtain large amounts of food. In terms of education (eg, in nutrition and risk-benefit thinking) and environment design, modern cultures have not kept pace with changes in the food world. Overweight and worrying about food result from this mismatch between human biological predispositions and the current food environment. The French have coped with this mismatch better than Americans. Although at least as healthy as Americans, they focus more on the experience of eating and less on the health effects of eating. They spend more time eating, but they eat less, partly because of smaller portion sizes. French traditions of moderation (versus American abundance), focus on quality (versus quantity), and emphasis on the joys of the moment (rather than making life comfortable and easy) support a healthier lifestyle. The French physical environment encourages slow, moderate social eating, minimal snacking, and more physical activity in daily life.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cross-Cultural Comparison*
  • Diet / trends
  • Eating*
  • Energy Intake / physiology*
  • Exercise / physiology
  • Feeding Behavior / ethnology*
  • Humans
  • Nutritive Value
  • Obesity / epidemiology
  • Obesity / etiology