France, celebrity chefs and bad diet

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.)

7 thoughts on “France, celebrity chefs and bad diet”

  1. Thanks for the links, Duncan. Interesting (if very depressing) reads. Makes me grateful for food blog culture helping a younger generation (ahem… me) get in touch with good eating traditions (not good as in healthy, but you know, the actual use of recipes, lol).

  2. Yes. I remember being rather surprised by the awful produce in the supermarkets in Paris. So much microwavable gunk, all being bought in large quantities.

    The produce was worse. Sort of made our ‘Fresh Food People’ look far, far fresher.

  3. I wonder if this only happen in the big city like Paris? My friends are from Alsace, and they do talk a lot about how fatty their food can be, but they still think that their produce are much better then here in California.

  4. @elra: My experience of North American supermarket produce has been very mixed, but certainly on rare occasions better than in France. It depends very much on how people shop in France to make the comparison.

  5. So first world countries are the same even where there is a history of being seen to have a true love and understanding of food?

    While the concept of a shop completely dedicated to frozen meals is astounding, I am less surprised to read that many of the French population are ‘convenience’ food fans. I suspect that in every country the balance of people eating junk food, packet food, ‘health’ food, home cooked food and restaurant meals is pretty similar. We’re all more the same than we are different. Even Japan and China are now struggling with their younger folk being addicted to burger chains.

    While there are slow food movement supporters all over, I have to wonder if those concepts ever really touch the people who just don’t care that they are eating cardboard food?

  6. All that red wine also helps (says a few studies on the French Paradox). I also think that the French eat foods that are so rich that they don’t really need a lot of it to feel satisfied.

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