...typical American priorities for our food reflect a society that largely values convenience, quantity and value. The more recent rise of chains like Starbucks adds brand panache to the mix, but it's a minority of the country that can battle time and financial pressures to value quality over quantity and a relaxed, pleasant experience at mealtime.
Americans spend a smaller percent of our income on food than most Europeans do, opting for, say, packaged factory-produced bread from a grocery superstore that will last a week or more over fresh-baked bread that gets hard the next day. Mass-produced foods filled with preservatives and corn syrup are cheaper, and thus more appealing to many, than locally grown/created, less chemical filled alternatives. It's also more convenient to shop less often.
But if you're curious what you're missing out on and you're local, I heartily recommend heading over to B&R Artisan Bread on Rte. 30 in Framingham (Bella Costa shopping center). The bread there has made me understand why my friends from Europe simply cannot eat any of the factory-produced, pre-packaged foodstuff that usually passes for bread around here. Artisan bread created by a true craftsman (as owner Michael Rhoads certainly is) bears about as much resemblence to Wonder Bread as a Renoir does to a velvet paint-by-number. Have a few fresh baguettes, and then see how you feel about going back to the stuff in the plastic package. It's tough.
The issue isn't only what we eat, though, but also how. Friends in Europe were horrified to hear that I typically eat lunch (and breakfast) at my desk during the week, but that's the only way I seem to be able to squeeze in both enough sleep and a lunchtime walk. The days of daily hour-long lunch breaks appear to be over, at least in my business. But we lose more than free time this way.
Savoring a good meal is an oft-repeatable pleasures of life that many Americans are missing. I'm starting to believe the American obesity epidemic is due in part to the way we eat -- hurried, multi-tasking, not paying attention and not savoring our food. It takes a larger quantity to be satisfied than if you're eating smaller amounts of high-quality food more slowly and with full attention. So here's one resolution for 2008: Eat at least one weekday breakfast, lunch and dinner of traditional foods in a traditional fashion -- no multi-tasking, no TV blaring, not working at my desk.