Since moving to France in 2001 with my then French husband, and having been involved with my ex French in-laws since 1988, I have noticed huge differences in the way the English and French regard food, and I think this is at the heart of the so called ‘French paradox’- they seem to eat so much yet stay slim and healthy.
In England food is a product, it’s something we have to fuel ourselves. At the base we eat it quickly, the need is filled. We’re hungry, it’s time to eat so we eat. Many watch with the TV while eating, eat at separate times to their family, we turn to food for comfort, Pinterest is full of US and English recipes competing for the highest calorie count (chocolate, caramel, cream, nuts, nutella and ice cream often all in one dessert). The french, however, have a totally different view, and this I think stems from peasant or agricultural roots which are just a generation before. Ask most adults what their grandparents did and the answer 8 times out of 10 will be a farmer (small scale), or fisherman. These people lived off the land and due to the very strong family ties their knowledge and beliefs have been kept in the families. Nearly all grandparents have veggie plots and their families will receive fresh veg from these. Food is seen as primordial for health, not for comfort or fuel but for the body.
It starts at a young age. When the children start school (at a way too young age of 3), their school dinners are a 3 course planned meal, with the menu displayed for the week, showing what eat dish contributes-whether fruit, veg, dairy, etc. The have a starter (often cruditiés), followed by a main course, and dessert often fruit based and chips are once a month. No-one takes a packed lunch- it’s school dinner or home.
Children are not rewarded with chocolates or sweeties. I remember being given sweets as a child when I hurt myself at nursery and I think there is something in this that we see food as comfort whereas the french don’t.
When I would eat with my ex french family I found there were differences-always a salad, and a homemade veg soup every day, without fail. Main meal at lunch, light supper in the evening. Wine with every meal and children get to taste the wine. Food is a serious topic of conversation, taken seriously and discussed at length, not to mention discussions over wine and what to drink with each course. There is, in all, a huge respect towards food-my ex-father in law draws a cross with a knife on the bread before cutting it for the first time in order to bless it and give gratitude.
Watching how the french eat they have a little of everything, they don’t deny, but just in moderation. Of course this is changing with the influence of fast food, ever increasing workloads and shorter lunch breaks ( although 2 hour lunch breaks still exist), but now they are still in touch with their agricultural roots.
People don’t snack endlessly, there are times to eat and ways to eat.
Another thing that I love about the French and their food is the regions. Every region, even town has their speciality, which is part of their identity. Brittany -crepes, Perigord truffles, Foie Gras from the southwest to name a tiny few. Those regions near to the sea live from the sea, with Sunday lunches consisting of a platter of shellfish with oysters, crab, even lobster. On a Sunday at low tide the family go sandfishing for hidden shellfish in the sand. They are very attached to their local identity and the food is very much part of that. Travel to the next departement and the food will change.
Many see French food as rich, with cream, butter, delicious pastries but in fact french food is simple, with ingredients used to enhance flavour, not hide it. If it is a rich dish than balance is created with lighter food such as vegetables and fresh fruit. You just have to experience a French housewife at the local market to see how determined they are to get the best quality they can!
Just remember that french food is now part of the “patrimoine française”!!
If you would like to know more about how I work, helping you through your weight problems by tackling the beliefs behind the issues, as well as workjing to find your inner happiness, please visit my website. Send me a mail, phone me, skype me for a chat on how we can work together