So I'm very late in the game responding here, but I wanted to put my thoughts together into something meaningful, and I haven't had a chance until now. (Apologies for the humongous post. Downtime at work...wheee!)
I find threads like this interesting because they make us think about a lot more than food. We tend to get bogged down in nutritionism here sometimes. And don't get me wrong - I'm a bit of a biochem geek myself and have nothing against the research and study junkies, and mostly enjoy the debates about the nitty gritty. I do think most people get the greatest benefit from going Paleo/Primal just by eating real food, ditching the junk, and getting a little more physical activity and fresh air. As for the last 10-20% of "optimizing" or maximizing health and longevity, I think that's where the grams, ounces, percentages, and stearic acid vs capric acid, phytate/oxalate, and raw/cooked type arguments fit in.
BUT...threads like this make us broaden the perspective beyond food, and I think these other aspects of not just health and nutrition, but just LIVING WELL, play a very, very underappreciated role in all the things most of us are trying to achieve in our physical bodies and spiritual/psychological selves.
Soooo, with that in mind, here goes. There was a related thread here (focused on Italians rather than Dutch), and after reading both, there are a few things I've believed for a while that I've come to believe even more firmly.
What are the Dutch (and Italians, and lots of other cultures) doing right?
How is it that they can eat bread, cheese, pasta, pizza, and wine, and flourish?
Their entire food culture is fundamentally different.
-- Like others have said, overall, other cultures tend to eat less total food than we do. A feeding frenzy at the Olive Garden is probably about as far as you could possibly get from a typical family dinner in Italy.
-- The food they do eat is REAL FOOD. (Meat, seafood, vegetables, fruit, nuts, and yes, cheese, yogurt, bread, pasta, and even baked goods - made with flour, butter, and sugar, rather than additives they can't pronounce and soy or cottonseed oils.) I don't go down most of the regular supermarket aisles anymore, but when I do, and I take the time to read labels out of curiosity, I am stunned, and I mean stunned by what passes for "food" in the U.S. I disagree with some of what Michael Pollan says, but I think one of the most brilliant phrases I've ever heard was his "edible foodlike substances." That is what fills so many shelves here these days. Sometimes I get down on myself when I have a couple of foods here and there that I consider "bad." But then I go down those aisles and look at what most people are consuming on a daily basis, and I realize that on my worst day, I wouldn't touch most of that with a 10-foot pole. Not to toot my own horn, but I guess the truth is, I've come far enough in my journey that there are "substances" I used to LOVE and eat often that I now literally don't even consider food. It's not that I have willpower and stop myself from eating them when they're calling my name. I honestly don't want them. They don't call my name anymore.
I look at the ingredients in breakfast cereals, "healthy" FiberOne bars, fat-free yogurts, salad dressings, baked goods, and I think about all the kids who can't sit still, all the women who are infertile or have other menstrual irregularities, all the people who hide in their houses because of horrible acne, all the people suffering from various iterations of IBS, all the obese people who are eating lots of "healthy whole grains" and fat-free items, and I. WANT. TO. GRAB. PEOPLE. AND. SHAKE. THEM. This is NOT rocket science!! It is not a mystery why all these "epidemics" are happening. The sheer ubiquity of additives, preservatives, artificial colors and flavors, rancid oils, GMO foods, and other wackiness is astounding. (And terrifying. There are people who eat this kind of stuff every day, at every meal.)
-- Money: In the U.S., we tend to value value. That is, we want as much as possible as fast as possible for the least amount of money. We think if we get a huge amount of food for a low price, it's a "bargain." And maybe it is, but only in one sense. Very few people seem to realize there's a reason those edible foodlike substances are so cheap here! Nobody stops to think how much a box of Cap'n Crunch would cost if we stopped subsidizing corn, or the price of Kashi if we stopped the soy subsidy. Not to mention the price of CAFO meats/poultry. Try getting bonesless skinless chicken breasts for $1.99/pound at the big box stores if we stopped subsidizing corn and soy feed, not to mention the issue of migrant and/or illegal immigrant labor in the slaughterhouses and processing plants. (Not trying to open that can of worms, just pointing it out. If they had to pay the usual U.S. worker benefits to those folks, I don't know how they'd swing $1.99/pound for pristine, clean, boneless breasts wrapped up all nice & pretty.)
We tend not to stop and wonder why this stuff is so cheap. It's bad enough that there are so many wacky things in the human food supply, but now we can't really even count on animal foods because farm-raised fish are eating corn and soy at this point, for goodness sake. And if you want the good stuff, you will pay more. (I agree that there are plenty of aspects of Paleo eating that can lower your food budget, but high quality meat and seafood is not one of them. Yes, if you have the space for an extra freezer, you can buy a quarter cow at a very reasonable price per pound, but not everyone has that option.)
I don't have the numbers in front of me, but haven't there been a bunch of assessments showing that in the U.S. we pay a far lower percentage of our income for food than most of the rest of the developed world? We want more for our money, but what are we getting more of? When we see sales of 2 for 1, or just something going really cheap, we have to wonder how it's possible that they can practically give the stuff away and still be making a profit after the store takes its share, the warehouse and shipping companies take theirs, they cover their PR and marketing costs, and pay all their employees. How dirt cheap are corn, soy, and wheat that Kellogg's can still make money selling a box of cereal for $3? And if the inputs are that cheap, why on earth would I want to eat them?!
-- Time: I haven't spent a lot of time in Western Europe, but the time I have spent has taught me something. I understand the European business/corporate climate is changing, but at least among the older generations, people wouldn't dream of eating lunch at their desk in front of the computer, wolfing something down with barely chewing and then racing off to a meeting. Their entire food culture is different. Food is nourishment. It's something to be appreciated, savored, and enjoyed, not shoved down one's piehole in the eight seconds one can find between the hundred other things they're trying to get done at the same time. That, I believe, is a uniquely American activity that, sadly, the rest of the world is beginning to emulate, much to their detriment.
-- Obesity/health: Things are changing. Many people commented on both threads that the Europeans (and even Asians) are catching up to us in terms of chronic disease and obesity. Their food supplies are changing, and they're becoming more sedentary. A double whammy. So when people travel to those countries now and make assessments about how healthy and lean people look, I believe them. But let's check back in 20-40 years and see what's happening, because the food supply in the U.S. has been wacko for a while now, but it's only been REALLY wacko for about 30 years. Let's see where autism, diabetes, obesity, chronic pain and infertility are in the rest of the developed world in a couple of decades. I think we can all make some pretty accurate predictions.
-- Stress: Other comments have addressed the issue that certain other cultures simply know how to lay back a little more than we do here. Someone else said it best: Some people work to live, others live to work. I have friends who pride themselves on working overtime (and they don't need the money), or amassing vacation time they'll never use. It's a real shame. We have this incredibly strict work ethic here, but what are we working for? Some of us spend so much time at work and have so much of our identity invested in our professional roles that we don't know who we are and what we stand for and value outside of work. And with regard to parenting, I'm not sure how things are in other countries with the endless stream of playdates, soccer games, violin practice, cheerleading, and nonstop go-go-go to the point where even a stay-at-home parent rarely has a second to themselves to breathe.
So how is it that the Dutch, the Italians, the French, the Spanish, or whoever else, can eat things we claim "would make us fat" or give us heart disease or blood sugar problems, yet stay healthy and vibrant? It's complicated and multifactorial but at the same time so very, very simple.