I’m sure you’re all familiar with the cliché about how well the French eat. You know, fresh produce markets everywhere, everyone eating good cheese and drinking decent wine. No fatties, no fast food diets, blah blah blah. We read this garbage often in nice comfy middle-class lifestyle rags and see it perpetuated in breathless television travel shows. Reality is, of course, a bit different.
The Guardian has two articles (with interesting links) about the popularity of celebrity chefs in France and the rise of one chef, Cyril Lignac, who is campaigning for better eating in much the same way as Jamie Oliver does in Britain. [1,2]
You see, the French don’t (as a whole) eat fantastic, fresh, healthy, homemade food. They behave rather a lot like Australians, in that they have access to a wide array of restaurants at many budget levels, can buy produce of reasonable quality and like to talk about food, but don’t always cook frequently and are quite fond of large meals and fatty or sweet snacks. Similar, EXCEPT that on the one hand the French have a stronger concept of good food, quality ingredients and more (cakes! cakes! chocolate! cakes!), and on the other hand have much larger numbers of socially disadvantaged or disenfranchised communities who fall entirely outside the much-vaunted food culture.
So yes, the French have great dining culture, marvellous markets (with their own flaws), etc etc. But at the same time, fast food joints are packed out with teenagers, discount supermarkets do high trade in canned and long-life foods, and frozen meals are popular in time-poor or can’t-cook households.
(There are many nuances one could explore here, but I just wanted to draw attention to the articles in The Guardian. I might write more about this in the future.)