As a food lover, I’ve been to Europe on many occasions to sample the culinary delights available. Trips to the UK, France, Italy, Greece, and, most recently, Spain, have reinforced my belief that, overall, food standards are higher in Europe and European culture is more attuned to the pleasures of food. Since purity standards are much higher, prices are also higher. Add to this government regulations on how food is produced, and you have a range of foods in the US that are not available in Europe. Here is a list of some of these products.
- Fake Parmesan Cheese
Parmesan cheese, or Parmigiano-Reggiano in Italian, is a type of cheese named for its birthplace in the town of Parma, Italy. Its production dates to over 800 years ago and has maintained a strict standard of production ever since. There are only three permitted ingredients in parmesan: milk (from the Parma/Reggio region and which must be used within 20 hours of milking), salt, and rennet (a type of enzyme found in calf intestines). Any other ingredients involved in the production are illegal and won’t be found in parmesan sold in Europe. However, in the US, it’s a different story, with items such as potassium sorbate and cheese cultures showing up in Kraft 100% Grated Parmesan Cheese. Even high-end stores sell faux wedges of parmesan made in the US or South America, which is deceptive because, to the untrained consumer, they are identical to what’s available in Europe. This is not so much a health issue, but a quality control matter and exacting standards are adhered to in European production to maintain a consistent, good-tasting product.
2. Processed cheese product
Observant consumers in the US will have noticed that Kraft singles aren’t called “cheese.” Indeed, cheese would be a misrepresentation of what these yellowish squares are. Kraft prefers to call them “pasteurized prepared cheese product.” Whatever they’re called, Europeans wouldn’t buy these in a million years. They don’t meet purity standards and don’t taste like cheese. European consumers are more willing to pay a little more for something that stays true to its roots and isn’t made from artificial chemicals and dyes.
3. Potassium bromate (bromated flour)
Potassium bromate is banned in the EU, but not in the US. This chemical is used in baking and allows for bread to rise faster, thereby reducing baking time. However, if the bread is not baked thoroughly and for long enough, residual chemical is left behind. This chemical has been shown to be harmful to your kidneys and nervous system.
4. Synthetic growth hormones rBGH and rBST
Growth hormones allow for cattle to grow bigger and at a more rapid rate. The problem is, however, this chemical has been linked to infertility and various cancers. It is widely banned in the EU, but is commonly found in many cuts of meat in the US.
5. Slow Food vs. Fast Food
The “Slow Food” movement that began in Europe is a departure from the US’ fast food model. Slow food prioritizes locally-grown, healthy, organic meats, fruits and vegetables. The idea is to know where the food you eat was produced. This is not to say that there aren’t fast food restaurants in Europe, but there are far fewer fast food brands and they are not as plentiful in the cities or towns. Instead, there are a greater variety of “mom and pop” small eateries that take pride in the quality of their food offerings.
6. Star Market vs. Small grocers
The US is the land of large-scale chain supermarkets, but in many European cities such as Rome, Paris and Madrid you’d be hard pressed to find a big supermarket or a strip of chain restaurants. Independent, small-scale proprietors are in charge of the culinary landscape. On my recent trip to Northern Spain, there were markets nearby my hotel the size of an American convenience store. What they lacked in variety (there weren’t dozens of types of cereal for sale), they made up for in quality. I found great breads, meats and cheeses there, all in excellent quality.
Overall, we are never completely in control of what we put in our bodies. This is true of both the US and Europe. What stands out in Europe is the culture of food appreciation. People take the time and are willing to spend the money necessary to get quality goods. Enjoyment is visible in mid-day siesta meals in Spain or lengthy, multi-course dinners in Italy. Americans can strive to avoid harmful foods by shopping at local farmers markets, organic stores, and eating at restaurants that use locally sourced products. The taste and the feeling will have you never going back to a McDonald’s burger.