Max: Food…

December 4, 2011

One aspect of culture that affects all of us each day is the topic of food and drink. For this reason, it’s possible to get many insights into the way a culture works just by looking at the way eating and drinking are treated. Here are some of my observations:

In Germany (and probably elsewhere in Europe, although I can’t confidently make that generalization) breakfast, lunch, and dinner exist just as in the US. The difference is in meal size: The largest meal of the day is traditionally supposed to be breakfast, followed by a reasonably large lunch, then a small dinner. In practice, however, lunch seems to be the largest meal, while dinner is still just a few slices of bread with cold cuts, cheese, or other toppings. The prevalence of the small evening meal is evident in the language itself, where the word for dinner, “Abendbrot,” literally translates to “Evening Bread.” There are, of course, exceptions: On special occasions or holidays the celebratory meal is held in the evening, much like in the United States. 

This is probably one of the reasons the university cafeterias only serve lunch, as opposed to the ones in the residence halls at the U of M, which serve all three meals.

Eating out here has a similar role as in the US, as long as you don’t count fast food as “eating out”. All I can say in the way of differences is that there seem to be a lot more outdoor restaurants in German cities than in American ones, although this is probably more because German cities have more pedestrian zones, being based around pedestrians instead of cars (more on that in a future article on transportation). 

Fast food is another matter. In America, it takes the form of cheap, often greasy and unhealthy, food-in-a-box that’s meant to stuff your stomach for a low price. While McDonald’s does exist in Germany, most “fast food” is more like real food that is packaged to be eaten on the go. Bratwurst on a roll, buttered pretzels, and gyros are all more readily available in Munich than greasy, suspect burgers.

Students are usually a segment of the population whose eating habits differ significantly from the rest. In America, I lived in a residence hall and did not cook for myself (a logical consequence of not having a kitchen), but I don’t think this is the case for most students living in off-campus apartments at the U of M. Their situation seems to be the same as for students here, where the students are on their own for morning and evening meals and most student residences have kitchens. The universities here just don’t provide full meal service of the type that exists in American college dorms. 

So what does all this say about our cultures? My interpretation of these differences is that food and eating maintains a more traditional role in Germany, whereas in America some of this tradition has been compromised by practicality (a trend which seems to exist in Germany to a lesser extent). I think this conclusion applies not only to food, but to each culture in general.

The only thing left now is to clear up why I put an ellipsis in the title. Since I have so much to say about food and drink, I decided to push the “drink” part to the next post, which you can expect sometime next week.

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