Monday, February 2, 2009

The French and Their Food

I met a tall, svelte Parisian literary agent on Friday night. She represents the books of various living French philosophers and political writers so you'd imagine we'd have talked more about Foucault than food. But the French as the cliche go, do love gastronomy so the woman and I quickly bonded over food choices that people make in America. 

Her point: Americans always ask her how she stays so slim and she points to the American diet as the reason for our collective weight gain. You see, her husband who stood just a few feet away is from the Midwest, I learned, and so she's pretty familiar with what I'm assuming is heavy on the cheese, processed breads and sausages.

But wait, isn't brie, let's say, a baguette and charcuterie pretty much the foods? Why would the sausage in Madison, WI be any different than in Nice? One reason, she theorized, was that Americans love to snack. In fact, she was once a participant in a Marie Claire article where she swapped diets with an American girl and then they weighed in. (I'm presuming this article came out around the same time French Women Don't Get Fat became a hit diet book). The result? The French literary agent gained 5 lbs. while the American girl lost 5 on a French menu. "I would hold my stomach with disgust every time my husband reminded me that I had snack AGAIN. I wasn't hungry at all."

I am not convinced this is the only reason. After all, I remember a New Yorker article by Adam Gopnick once that walked through his wife's pregnancy in Paris only because she was told to avoid lettuce -- a food American pregnant women would never find on their "avoid" list. Perhaps it is the high-fructose corn syrup in our bread starters (yes. this is true in the majority) that makes our baguettes less wholesome than theirs? And perhaps it is the quality of the livestock's diets that make our cheese and sausage that make it less filling and hormonal havoc-wreaking than the French counterpart?

Or perhaps, it's something else. After all, this literary agent kept popping out of the bar to have a cigarette. And that's one diet aid that perhaps Americans are thankfully getting out of our systems.

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