May 1st

theresa albert - my friend in food


French Women Love Their Fat

france picnic spot

I have been moaning on facebook and twitter for weeks about the anticipation of my trip to France, my experience of it and then my yearning to go back.  It was a wonderful treat to take a week off and hang with friends and it was a glorious romp through history with our informative archeology/anthropology host but that’s not even the best of it!

When I was 15, I had the good fortune of tasting this place for the first time.  I really believe that the experience imprinted on me a lifelong desire to understand food.  Something about the place explained what I was already learning in ma tante Louise’s Quebecois kitchen. Food was more than flavor or nourishment, it was a character in its own story.  This fundamental difference took me a lifetime to truly understand but I think I have it now. Maybe.

In France, meals define the day. Eating isn’t something done on the way to something else, each and every time it is a moment unto itself.  And this wasn’t just because we were on vacation, it is inherent in the lifestyle of the French.  Paris is a little more cosmopolitan and seems to have a different set of rules all its own (I will need another trip just to figure that one out, for sure, soon, like really soon, moaaannnn). The entire French countryside has a culture that is designed to support the sitting down and breaking of bread.  Lots of it.

  • Bakeries still open at dawn and women (yes, women) still make the effort to get that day’s baguette
  • Stores and offices still close from 12:30-2:30 to accommodate a meal and a rest
  • Restaurants often only serve during this period (if you are jetlagged or hungry, adapt or die)
  • There are some restaurants that will accommodate limited menus at other times but they will be in the more touristy areas
  • Lunch is a 3 course affair with wine and enough time to rest (aka, sober up)
  • Dinner is a lighter meal consisting of soup with lots of bread
  • Cheese finishes most meals and it is always locally sourced from grass fed cows, goats or sheep
  • Each town has its market day and everyone knows what day is theirs is plus the events within  a drive of an hour or so.

You see where I am going with this? It isn’t just what is on the plate, it is how it got there, how it was served, the time and respect it took to grow/prepare and the culture under which it was served that matters.  And this isn’t just a few foodies who are creating a “back to the farm” experience for themselves and their customers, it is EVERYONE.

I am convinced that it is this attitude that saves the French from our North American obesity problems.  This simple fact and their general avoidance of simple sugar may turn out the be the big secret yet!

We dined in, we picnic-ed and we dined out. Boy, did we dine out.  (I will describe that bit in a later post!) And each meal was worthy of comment, every food was preciously chosen and appreciated.  The time it took to have a meal was as important as the time it took to read a book or explore a town.  Of course it is THAT important, it is not only the ONLY thing that fuels the body and mind to do these other things, it is also the root pleasure of inviting the world in.

The question remains now, though, how will I bring this passion home?  What goes on my plate can’t be improved 95% of the time, I have got that bit right.  But, my schedule demands that I am up early, eat breakfast standing up while loading the dishwasher and shepherding humans out the door.  My lunch is most often eaten at my desk, albeit, while chatting with other humans about their day on twitter, but still. Dinner is a sit down, pay attention affair as often as I can muster but with three people going in three different directions (and one of them often needing a ride), it can be a challenge.  How will I make this life altering lesson stick? Any suggestions?

Theresa Albert

Theresa Albert

I love food, try to watch my weight, know more than I want to about healthy living (sometimes I wish I knew less so I wouldn’t feel so guilty when I stumble), am a daughter, sister, friend, mom and wife who worries and scurries the meals onto the table. It is for all these reasons that I completed my nutrition, RNCP designation, wrote my book, hosted my Food Network show, consult with food companies to urge them to get it right (or at least better), constantly write about it, research it, all of this so I can cut through the nutrition and food “news” clutter. Happy to share with friends!


One Response

    Dana Bovee
    April 28, 2011 at 5:46 am Reply

    This question is in fact one that the French themselves are starting to confront! All that you said about the central role of food, family, and place in France is true but the demands of modern life and the availability of so many convenient but essentially “non-food” foods in huge hypermarches have in very recent years undermined these values. As a result, obesity is increasingly apparent, even here in the land of la ligne, l’equilibrium, and la mode. Being France, much public discussion of the emerging problem, particularly as it effects children or as it places demands on the public medical system, is taking place. So far the solution seems to be to raise public awareness to “Eat better and move more” without much detail about what constitutes better eating. Unlike us, the French do have a rich history of valuing the social context of food and therefore may seem better equipped to draw on a larger tool kit when defining “better eating” but this does not seem to be part of the debate. Instead the failure is not attributed to major negative changes in the social context of food supply and consumption but, rather simply, to failure on the part of individuals to control their own behaviours. This lack of solidarity is surprisingly unFrench, in that there is an expectation that social action will be initiated to solve social problems, and surprisingly so French at the same time, in that conformity and competition are highly valued and individual performance constantly measured against the perceived norm (and you can believe that obese is really bad, since it is mostly Americans that are used as the negative example!). Until the French can value the strengths that you have highlighted and experience the impulse to protect what they have in all its complicated glory, they, like us, are going to continue to struggle. Thank you for pointing to the issue, for there can be no discussion for anyone unless someone points out the problem!

Leave a Comment



Copyright 2011 All Rights Reserved.