I'm a Canadian who spends half her time in the United States and half her time in France, and I do my fair share of comparing and contrasting the cultures that surround and embrace me. As I’ve embarked on this path toward a higher state of eco-wisdom and ethical awareness, this cultural curiosity has peaked.
This year, I started making eco-city guides as a way to really delve into the rhythms of sustainability around the world. Here's what I've noticed about the two countries I love so much, France and the United States. (Note: My main point of reference in the States is the Texan city of San Antonio, which I developed a deep appreciation for over the years. In France, my current home, it’s Paris that I know best.)
If we're talking stereotypes, the French are revered for their culinary prowess while Americans' gastronomy is seen as more primitive than proper. But when it comes to eating sustainably, things shifts slightly. In San Antonio, it is much easier to make your grocery shop zero-waste, with Trader Joe's and Whole Foods offering bulk options in droves. Paris, in comparison, lacks opportunity in this department.
And while Paris’ organic, vegan, and vegetarian food is far from diverse, most of its produce is local and seasonal, which encourages Parisians to cook at home, which is less wasteful than eating out. France also became the first nation in the world to penalize supermarkets that throw away products that are edible to humans, while the United States leads the world in wasted food, throwing away 50 percent, or 60 million tons, of produce annually.
Paris has a serious pollution problem. (It's so bad that I’ve decided I need to sport a pollution mask for certain activities.) Paris’ pollution index is 69.80—29.80 above the legal safe level as decreed by the World Health Organization. San Antonio’s is 38.79, which wavers just below unsafe levels but hasn’t pushed beyond them.
In Paris, my main method of transport is the city bike service called Velib. If I need to drive somewhere in the city, I use the citywide electric car service called Autolib, and if I need to go farther I’ll rent a neighbor’s car using this Airbnb-esque service called Oui Car. Public transport is cheap and easy, so you can go anywhere you want to with minimal effort. Cars exist, of course, but most people don't own them.
In San Antonio, it is difficult to get around by bike, and even if you own an eco-friendly electric car, you won't be able to find a public charging station for it.
The average American produces three times the amount of CO2 emissions as the average French person. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, per capita CO2 emissions in the United States are 19.78 tons, compared to France’s 6.6. I think that the main reason for this is everything is bigger in the United States, where you have plenty of extra space and cheap energy. It's a land that lauds big cars, big appliances, and so on. In Europe, space is limited, so everything is tiny. We hang our clothing, and only the elite few have air conditioning. If people do have cars, they’re small ones, and they can pay carbon taxes to offset their emissions.
All in all, there are sustainable changes every country needs to make, and these changes start with individual action. And as far as I'm concerned, this mentality is more important now than ever, considering Trump's decision not meet the requirements of the Paris Agreement.
The more mindful we become in our daily lives, the more we'll be able to affect policy in a positive way. Personal action encourages the actions of others and, in turn, leads to monumental change.
And do you want to learn how to unlock the power of food to heal your body, prevent disease & achieve optimal health? Register now for our FREE Functional Nutrition Webinar with Kelly LeVeque.