The French Way

For the past year I have been intrigued with the French way. I read a book titled “Bringing Up Bebe” by Pamela Druckerman (2012) and after that, I read a book titled “French Kids Eat Everything” by Karen Le Billon. So when I started reading Michael Pollan’s book (In Defense of  Food)(2008) I was immediately interested in his food rules to “Eat like another culture,” such as the French, or the Japanese. Many people have seemed to study the French and been baffled about how they can eat the things that they do, and still have a thin and healthy population. How could they eat so many rich foods, drink wines, and even smoke the occasional cigarette without such adverse health problems such as our nation? I believe that it has to do with how much they eat, and I believe the biggest factor is about the lack of stress they put on food and dieting, they have unspoken rules they eat by without stressing and worrying too much. How can the French stay so slim, with all those luscious croissants, cheeses, pastries, and sauces? New studies brings home what’s known as “the French Paradox.” Despite France’s rich cuisine, the French are decidedly slimmer than Americans. Only 7% of French people are obese, compared with 30% of Americans.

What do the French eat?

As a nation France is taught to appreciate and take pride in their nation’s culinary reputation from a very young age. Variety is one thing that the French find very important, and at children’s school’s the menu does not have the same dish twice on the menu for an entire month. Baguettes are not just an iconic symbol in France- the French eat them quite frequently. They often accompany dinner, but they are also eaten for a small breakfast cut in half and spread with butter or fresh jam. Or a croissant is often eaten with a cup of coffee. The French tend to eat diverse meats, whether beef, pork, poultry or wild game. But they tend to buy meat fresh from the butcher, where they inspect the piece before purchasing and haggle over the choice cuts. In many regions of France animal organs are a fundamental part of traditional cuisine.

In France, vegetables do not play a star role but are usually a side dish or part of the main course. However the French pay close and careful attention to the freshness and quality of their vegetables. According to the Traditional French Food website, when French people buy vegetables at the market, they choose the ripest produce as opposed to the prettiest. They understand that the quality is the importance and it makes or breaks a meal. Popular French vegetables are mushrooms (porcini,morels or chanterelle), leeks, string beans, tomatoes, onions and a variety of lettuces and leafy greens. The most renown vegetables dish being ratatouille.

Cheese is an indispensable part of a French meal. It is always served after the main course, before dessert. France has over 500 different types and each region has it’s own specialties. As for dessert it is a specialty of the French. Chocolate eclairs, mousse au chocolat, the list goes on. Despite the offerings in the shops, these are only purchased for special occasions. On ordinary nights, the French eat fruit for dessert.

How do the French eat?

The French do not snack, they do not eat alone, standing, in a car, walking, or otherwise. A meal is always eaten at the dinner table, and there is never snacking. Consider this, according to an article by Karen Le Billon (2012) (NY Times) our children are three times more likely to be overweight than French children. French parent’s teach children how to eat like we teach our children how to read: with love patience and firm persistence they expose their children to a wide variety of tastes, flavors, and textures that are the building blocks of a varied diet. Pediatrician recommended first foods for French babies are blended leek soup, spinach, endive and beets, unlike America where the recommendation is a rice cereal. They teach kids that the healthy foods, taste good and often we do the opposite, even though we don’t mean to. Vending machines are banned in France, flavored milk is not an option, and no dish is repeated more than once per month.

French children are trained to think about eating. The French wouldn’t ask a child “Are you full,” but rather “Are you still hungry”- believing that these are different feelings. One French food rule is a common sense based in rich food culture backed by a century of science. French kids only snack once a day, French TV snack foods carry a banner warning on them much like cigarettes because they believe snacking is bad for your health and created unregulated eating habits that are difficult to change later in life.

The fact is that the French eat less, and enjoy it more. The portion sizes are smaller. Researchers weighed portions at 11 similar eateries in Paris and Philadelphia — fast-food outlets, pizzerias, ice cream parlors, and ethnic restaurants. The average portion size in Paris was 25% smaller than in Philly. A candy bar in Philadelphia was 41% larger than the same candy bar sold in Paris. A soft drink was 52% larger, and a hot dog was 63% larger. To compare the size of portions served in American and French homes, they matched the popular U.S. cookbook, “Joy of Cooking,” with a similar French cookbook. Portion size of recipes overall was 25 percent larger in the U.S. cookbook with portions of meat dishes 53 percent larger. Only vegetable portions were smaller (by 24 percent) in the American cookbook compared to its French counterpart.(WebMD)(2003)

Research shows that when we are served less food, we do not leave the table hungry. In Penn State studies, researchers served participants portions that were 25 percent smaller than what they ate at other times. The participants reported they were just as satisfied with the smaller portions as with the larger-sized meals.

In an influential article by Karen Collins (2007) (NBC News)  she states that we should try to

prolong a meal by serving food in several courses. The traditional French style of eating divides both lunch and dinner into several courses. This practice stretches mealtime, makes less food seem like more and gives the body time to achieve satiation. Some researchers suggest that eating slowly will help us better taste and savor food, creating more pleasure regardless of how much is eaten. So if we know portions are smaller, how would a meal go? (Maren Goldberg)

(EHow)

French courses of a meal:

Appetizer: An appetizer would be served possibly with a glass of champagne or light wine. A

common appetizer would be snail, soups, or mousses.

Palate Cleanser Then amuse-bouche is served, literally meaning “amuse the mouth.” This is a small bite to serve as a palate cleanser before a main course. This is meant to aid digestion and stimulate appetite. This is usually a spoonful of fruit sorbet, or a soup.

Main Course The main course is at least an hour or two into the meal. This is the largest portion such as ratatouille, beouf bourguignon, or steamed mussels. Other dishes are rabbit, salmon, chicken, veal or crepes.

Post Meal A platter of soft and hard cheese will be presented such as Camembert, goat or ewe’s milk. Sometimes a lettuce or small salad is brought with a baguette to accompany the cheese.

Dessert Often served with coffee, makes up the final food part. Fruits, tarts, profiteroles, mousse or cake. (As I mentioned earlier, an ordinary meal would be a fruit dessert.)

Digestif is an after dinner drink meant to settle the stomach.

How would this be beneficial to our lives?

I don’t know about everyone else, but I am constantly trying to find balance. I have a hard time finding a middle ground to being so health conscious, and also living full and worry free healthy life. I am sometimes so consumed with “Does this have GMO,” “Is this organic,” “This has HOW much sugar?!” that I forget that I also need to live with as little stress as possible, and enjoy my food. This is why I did this essay, and why I think this is so important to study and be open to. I have a passion for health, and I love organic foods, but also, I would like to know how to live with a conscious heart and not a life counting calories. I know that I do not want to force my future children to eat so healthy that they become resentful and do not learn to make their own healthy choices, but as the French have done, I want to make food a love and respect that should be enjoyed, and let it be known that it CAN be done in a healthy way.

How can we adapt to a French way?

According to Karen Le Billon as cited in an article by Emily Fleischaker (2012)(Bon Appetit), among others (Druckerman, 2012., Pollan, 2008.) I compiled together what I believe to be the:

“French Food Rules”

Moderation not depravation.

Worry less about nutrients and calories, concentrating on loving food as a life pleasure.

Schedule meals and menus.

No short order cooking, everyone eats the same.

No snacking, food rewards, or emotional eating such as in front of the TV, or elsewhere.

It is okay to feel hungry between meals.

You don’t have to like it, but you do have to taste it.

Eat foods with lots of variety, including vegetables.

Eat together without distractions.

Slowly eat food.

Eat mostly real food, treats on special occasions are okay.

So what does this have to do with nutrition? I truly believe that this is an important source of information. I am not saying to adopt all these rules or do exactly as they do because everyone is different. I’m not saying that this is the perfect way, and to drink the wine, eat the chocolate cake, and the cheeses every dinner. But there is definitely something to their way. I believe that some of it is, that they aren’t stressing as much as we are, they aren’t eating as much, they are looking at real foods as the right foods, not solely as a source of fuel and nutrition but also as an enjoyment to be enjoyed moderately. But I know that I will be trying to experiment with this and see where it takes me. Having a dinner with a few courses and smaller portions could be turned into a healthy experience, a small soup, a handful of vegetables, a few slices of cheese, a small slice of bread, a bowl of fresh fruit. These ideas can be tweaked into something that is healthy and very fulfilling. I think I could benefit from the French way at times, because I find that the stress induced from possibly eating a tomato that wasn’t organic might even be harming me more than the tomato did!

References

Pollan, M. (2008). In Defense of Food. New York, NY: Penguin Press.

Druckerman, P. (2012). Bringing Up Bebe. New York, NY: Penguin Press.

Le Billon, K. (2012). French Kids Eat Everything. New York, NY: HarperCollins

Le Billon, K. (2012, April 13.). Why French Parents are Superior in One Way. NYTimes.com. Retrieved February 28, 2013, from http://www.NYTimes.com.

Davis, J. (2003, August 22.). French Secrets to Staying Slim. WebMD.com. Retrieved February 28, 2013, from http://www.WebMD.com.

Collins,K. (2007, June 8.). French Lessons: Eat Petite, Take Your Time. NBCNews.com. Retrieved February 28, 2013, from http://www.NBCNews.com.

Goldberg, M. (2007, June 8.). The Parts of A Traditional French Meal. EHow.com. Retrieved February 28, 2013, from http://www.EHow.com.

Fleischaker,E. (2012, April 4.). How to Cure Your Kids’ Picky Eating Habits (According to the French). BonAppetit.com. Retrieved February 28, 2013, from http://www.BonAppetit.com.

Druckerman, P. (2012). Bringing Up Bebe. New York, NY: Penguin Press.

Pollan, M. (2008). In Defense of Food. New York, NY: Penguin Press.

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