Gentlemen, Stop Your Engines

Dear Reader,

While in France a couple years ago, I bumped into my colleague Addison Wiggin, an American publisher (and now filmmaker) who was living in Paris at the time.

During our chat, he told me about a French co-worker who had just returned from her first trip to the United States. When he asked what about America had made the biggest impression on her, she said, "I can't believe you eat in your cars."

We both had a chuckle over this. To Parisians, eating is a sacrament. Even a short lunch has to include fresh bread, good wine, and time enough to enjoy it.

It's a whole different experience than driving down the highway with a Quarter Pounder and fries in your lap, a Big Gulp - the only soda large enough to have its own undertow - sloshing around in the cup holder, while you lick your fingers between bites so grease doesn't get on the wheel.

I'm kidding, of course. We Americans don't really eat this way on a regular basis. Do we?

Get ready to cringe. A recent study conducted by John Nihoff, a professor of gastronomy at the Culinary Institute of America, found that among eighteen- to fifty-year-old Americans, roughly a fifth of all eating takes place in the car. Almost as bad, studies show that a significant percentage of the rest occurs in front of the TV.

Look, I'm a libertarian at heart. If this is how people want to take their meals, so be it. Of course, I wouldn't call them meals, necessarily. They're more like "eating occasions." Still, if this is how millions of my fellow Americans choose to receive their daily caloric intake, all I can say is... "Viva la France!"

Face it. The French are smarter than us when it comes to eating. Surveys show they rarely snack. They consume most of their food at meals shared with others. They eat smaller portions and don't come back for seconds. They also linger, spending considerably more time eating than we do. Put these habits together and you have a food culture in which the French consume less calories than we do, yet enjoy them far more.

As Michael Pollan writes in his new book "In Defense of Food":

"We forget that, historically, people have eaten for a great many reasons other than biological necessity. Food is also about pleasure, about community, about family and spirituality, about our relationship to the natural world, and about expressing our identity. As long as humans have been taking meals together, eating has been as much about culture as it has been about biology...

"It is at the dinner table that we socialize and civilize our children, teaching them manners and the art of conversation. At the dinner table parents can determine portion sizes, model eating and drinking behavior, and enforce social norms about greed and gluttony and waste... The shared meal elevates eating from a mechanical process of fueling the body to a ritual of family and community, from mere animal biology to an act of culture."

The reality is agriculture, technology and the free market have succeeded almost too well. Food today is so easy, so cheap and so plentiful that we forget our ancestors spent most of their waking hours hunting, growing, producing and preparing meals. It defined their lives. For hundreds of millions in the Third World, it still does.

If we eat mindlessly, we experience a disconnection. We miss a chance to bond with our friends and family. We lose our deep connection to the earth. We forego an opportunity to give thanks. And that's regrettable.

In "The Pleasures of Eating," Wendell Berry writes:

"Eating with the fullest pleasure - pleasure, that is, that does not depend on ignorance - is perhaps the profoundest enactment of our connection with the world. In this pleasure we experience and celebrate our dependence and our gratitude, for we are living from mystery, from creatures we did not make and powers we cannot comprehend."

This attitude fosters a more deliberate approach to eating. Our meals become a sort of spiritual practice where gratitude, fellowship and conversation are more important than simply "strapping on the feedbag." We eat less and enjoy it more. Not coincidentally, we look and feel better, too.

So take your cue from the French. Enjoy the company. Savor your meal. And if you really don't have time to eat this way... well, don't forget to buckle up.

Carpe Diem,


Author's Bio: 

Alexander Green has recently launched Spiritual Wealth (

What is “Spiritual Wealth,” exactly?
According to Alex:
"Anything that can be measured in dollars and cents, I call material wealth. Everything else – the love of our families, the health we enjoy, the time we spend doing things we enjoy or working on things that really matter – I call spiritual wealth."

Alex is also the Chairman of Investment U, where his actionable investment ideas are published three times a week. He’s the Investment Director of The Oxford Club, as well, where he’s beaten the S&P 500 nearly 5-to-1 over the last five years.