Understanding Food Culture: Why are French obesity rates lower than the US?

Victor Baudrand
4 min readFeb 4, 2021


Comparing French and American food cultures.

Sampling classic French dishes.

My host family and I enjoying a classic French dinner. On the menu: Hachi Parmentier de canard

French and American food cultures are so different on so many levels. Although the French diet is high in fat, French people typically have lower rates of cardiovascular or other diseases associated with eating a high-fat diet compared to Americans. People call this the “French Paradox.” The basic explanation for why the French have a lower obesity rate than Americans is that they consume fewer calories and exercise more. In France, people don’t constantly snack, unless it’s for “L’apéro” (pre-dinner drink or finger food,) the portion sizes are smaller, and French people are more likely to exercise by walking or biking when they run errands.

When it comes down to attitudes of eating and food, French people are less likely to fear and self-blame due to a food’s nutritional or caloric content than an American. French people rather appreciate sitting down and take the time to savor the food as a social experience. The difference in American food culture can also be because of the lack of culinary identity, and distinctive national cuisine to guide American’s decisions on what to make and eat. With no distinctive national cuisine, Americans do not feel patriotic about their food therefore they lack structure and balance with each meal. Instead, the mentality leans towards what can be cooked for a larger quantity, lower cost, timely convenience, and greater choices. As innovations and customs continue to evolve, the future of American and French food culture and the state of health will also continue to change.

Two Classic French Dinners I have Tasted

Dinner #1

Roasted Rabbit with Traditional Mustard Sauce

The roasted rabbit with mustard is a traditional dish made up of pieces of slowly simmered rabbit and a slightly spicy and peppery creamy sauce made with typical French old-fashioned mustard. It is served with gently roasted or pan-fried potatoes and occasionally carrots to balance everything out. But like all traditional French recipes, the ingredients are rather simple but there are a few secrets to know to make it a success.

Butterhead Salad with Smoked Haddock Fish, Vinaigrette dressing, and Nuts


Roquefort: This cheese is white, tangy, crumbly, and slightly moist, with distinctive caves of blue mold. Aged in limestone caves.

Source: Sheep's Milk

Truffle Brie:

The flavor of brie is rich, buttery, fruity, and increasingly earthy with age. The truffle added a delicious note to this popular cheese.

Source: Cow’s milk

Tomme de Savoie:

Tomme de Savoie is a variety of Tomme cheese, specifically from Savoy region, in the French Alps. It is a mild, semi-firm with a thick rind.

Source: Cow’s milk


Merveilleux Gâteau

A simple white sugar cloud of deliciousness. A crunchy meringue sandwich filled with a layer of whipped cream and covered with rich chocolate chips make up this cake. The contrast of textures is to die for.

Dinner #2

Chard and Potatoe Soup

The chard and potato soup is a simple, fresh, and comforting. Chard is a bit like spinach and collard greens but with a slightly sweeter mild taste to its cousins. The soup is then topped with pepper and crème fraîche.

Blanquet de Veau

An ancient classic French recipe that involves simple ingredients like lamb, carrots mushrooms, and onions. The sauce is brought together by a mixture of butter, cream, lemon, and a little flour. The longer the ragu cooks the more smooth and tender the lamb and sauce will be. It is typically severed with rice and a side of perfectly roasted potatoes.


Compté (36 months): This cheese has mild fruity and sweets notes that are perfectly balanced by the salty bits throughout the cheese. Compté’s are aged for a very long time and the older the Compté is the more flavor it will have and the harder it will be.

Source. Cows milk

La Tomme Ail des Ours: This cheese is gentle but also very strong because it is flavored with wild garlic. Because the garlic is wild it simply gives the cheese light notes of garlic. They call it Ail des Ours because bears love to eat the wild garlic around the French region after they come out of hibernation.

Source. Cow’s Milk

Saint Nectaire: The Saint Nectaire is a particular cheese because it is extremely mild to the taste, but the rind gives off a false impression. The rind is where all the fruity, “nectar” notes come from because the cheese is not salty.

Soft goat cheese: This is typical soft goat cheese. This goat cheese was tangy and sweet. Although it looks like it is creamy, this goat cheese had a more dry center.

Source: Goat’s milk


Madeleines: The simple combination of butter, sugar, and eggs make this cake or cookie delicious at any time in the day. The Madeleine's spongy cake texture makes them perfect to pair with coffee or tea. We paired ours with an arrangement of jams.



Victor Baudrand

I’m an 18-year-old from the US, currently living and traveling through France to pursue competitive rock climbing, and taste lots of delectable French pastries.