Seriously. I have a problem.
Last summer my 16-year-old son Jacob went to France and Spain for a school trip and fell in love with France. He’s taking French in high school now and is planning to major in French in college.
All that is to say, because of him, my own mild interest in France has grown and in an effort to explore the French lifestyle, and especially the French way of eating, I’ve kept my eyes peeled for notable books.
Of course, I came across French Women Don’t Get Fat: The Secret of Eating for Pleasure by Mireille Guiliano after a quick search at the library. I read it twice. Mireille is kind of snooty, somewhat condescending, and makes sweeping generalizations about French women as a whole, but for some reason, I ate it up. (Sorry.)
Mireille’s advice is essentially this: eat what you love but don’t eat too much; walk more; have some effing self respect. That last one is my own sweeping generalization, but I think it fits. Mireille wants American women to like themselves enough to make their own lives enjoyable, especially with regard to eating. At least, that’s what I took from tidbits like, “Making choices that are meaningful to you is the essence of the French woman’s secret” and ““French women typically think about good things to eat. American women typically worry about bad things to eat.”
Mireille preaches the value of quality over quantity (eat fresh and in-season and cut the processed crap, etc.) and this checked out with the next book I read, French Kids Eat Everything: How Our Family Moved to France, Cured Picky Eating, Banned Snacking, and Discovered 10 Simple Rules for Raising Happy, Healthy Eaters by Karen Le Billon.
This book could have been subtitled, “A Hapless Woman Moves to France and Despite Being Married to a Frenchman, She Makes Every Social Faux Pas Possible and Makes Up for It With a Complete Lack of Self-Awareness.” Le Billon is actually from Canada but her book explores the French approach to food, eating, and raising children who, as the title says, eat everything (largely due to well-organized and executed social pressure).
Again, I ate it up. Then I read Chic & Slim: How Those Chic French Women Eat All That Rich Food and Still Stay Slim by Anne Barone. It was just chock full of antiquated ideas about relationships between men and women. But I read the entire thing.
What is wrong with me?
Turns out I’m not the only woman intrigued by what’s become known as the French paradox, which is apparently old news to everyone else. The French are just known for good food and good health and the authors I’ve mentioned are simply the latest to investigate this seeming paradox, which reveals that the French have an entirely different relationship to food and pleasure than, say, Americans.
Whenever I ask Jake something about France, like do French people really smoke that much? He’ll confirm the stereotype and then add something like, “But it’s weird, none of the places we went smelled like smoke…”
Apparently French people also don’t sweat, don’t need to eat between meals, and definitely don’t wear sneakers; those are for tourists. The French are a magical people…
Despite not having prompted me toward “slimness” in any official way, these books have inspired me to focus more on the things in my life I enjoy. I’ve made pleasure a focus of the evening meal and I’ve even created some new traditions, like a glass of wine at dinner, for the sake of pure enjoyment. I can’t tell you how luxurious it feels to sip that glass of wine in the evening, lingering over good food with Ben and Jake, just being together and laughing and talking. It’s awesome.*
And for that, I offer these authors, snooty or no, a hearty “Merci!”
*I don’t mean to make it sound like we do this every evening. We don’t. But we aim to sit down together on Monday and Wednesday evenings, and we have a movie and takeout night every Sunday. The rest of the week the constraints of “dinner” are stretched (usually to the couch).