The French Paradox

We’re back! I am delighted to report that after a week in Michigan (we didn’t end up making it to Ohio on this trip–we’ll save that for a future adventure), I was not eaten by any wolves, trampled by any moose, nor did I get stuck in the basement and have to have Thanksgiving dinner delivered via dumbwaiter. Arguably my absolute failure to go out jogwalking during the week contributed to my survival, but in my defense, I had all this vacationing to do, and simply couldn’t find the time. I did help spread some mulch around Moon Man’s Mum’s beautiful landscaping, though, so I got in some exercise (and yep, I put a sticker on the calendar when we got home. A nice shiny one, even).


I did not, however, get anywhere near enough exercise from that one mulching session to account for the 1.5 pounds I lost last week. That’s right, kids, I weighed in yesterday morning and discovered that apparently I went to Thanksgiving dinner and came back 1.5 pounds lighter. I volunteered for dinner prep Monday through Wednesday, so I know full well what we had on the menu, and lemme tell ya, it wasn’t diet food; so all of this got me to thinking about the French Paradox today, because I suspect that that phenomenon contributed greatly to my little success last week.


A summary of the French Paradox can be found here: Basically it says that somehow, despite eating all these fatty foods and drinking all this wine, French people seem to be all willowy and healthy; some studies find a lower incident of coronary disease too, but other folks think that’s just statistics manipulation and discount it. Either way, the French do seem to be mighty happy and healthy, and just go on eating all their rich sauces and cheeses and things for zillions of years, while we in America eat, like, 1 cheeseburger and gain 200 pounds and immediately have a heart attack.


This has baffled people for a long time. I mean, the current wisdom around these parts is that fatty foods will kill the heck outta you, so you’re supposed to track your fat intake down to the microgram, right?


But there are a bunch of folks who think that maybe the issue isn’t what they eat, but how they eat that’s making the difference. The French, it seems, aren’t really “grab a burger in the car” sorts of people. They’re not “pick your top 10 favorite packaged meals and eat them in rotation” folks. They don’t seem to subscribe to the idea that you should take 2 meals and 2 snacks to work with you and eat them at your desk while typing a memo and answering the phone.


Instead, they take their time with meals. Yes, they’re eating fattier things, but they’re eating them in smaller quantities and savoring each bite. They’re holding out mealtimes as a time to really get together and break bread, not just an inconvenient blip in their meticulously scheduled days. They’re eating with joy and gusto, finding delicious things and turning them into delicious meals, rather than sacrificing flavor and nutrition on the altar of convenience and speed.


Basically, they’re eating like we ate last week at the in-laws’ house. We all live about 12 hours away from each other, so we don’t get to be together all that often…so when we do, we sit down and enjoy it. We cook a big meal, sure, but then we all gather around the dining table (which is fully set, including napkins, tablecloth, candles, and a centerpiece), settle in, and spend 30-60 minutes eating and visiting. There’s a certain subtle social pressure involved–you don’t really want to be the one who’s shoveling food into their gaping maw while everyone else is nibbling daintily and discussing politics–but for the most part, the emphasis is less on the food anyway and more on the gathering-together. And this held true all week, including Thanksgiving Day itself; for the Turkey Day meal, we pulled two long tables into the living room (we had extra people for that meal) and sat and ate and talked and laughed for ages…and unlike my trends in years past, I got exactly one plate of food, and was satisfied. (Ok, to be honest, I had a second helping of the roasted Brussels sprouts, but really, how much harm could that possibly have done? And I did have pie, but not until several hours after dinner.)


The moral of the story is that for a week, we ate like the French. We savored our meals, enjoyed the process, took the time to really sit back and enjoy what we were eating and the people with whom we were eating it. The television was in the other room, and turned off. Nobody brought their electronic devices to the table. When it was time to sit and eat, we just sat and ate. And darned if it didn’t work. At least, that’s what the bathroom scale tells me.


So I think we might try this approach here at home. Granted, it’s just Moon Man and me most of the time. But we have a dining table, and we have some lovely tablecloths that we received as wedding gifts, and we have napkins and candles. We can’t really have floral centerpieces because our cats eat any plant they can reach, but maybe I can rig up something with supplies from Hobby Lobby. We’ll still emphasize veggies and whole grains and things, but we won’t freak out if the meal involves (god save us) some butter. Maybe we’ll have a nice glass of wine.


I’ll just have to clear off the table first, which means finding a new home for the soda, and those magazines, and the mail, and the anti-flea-‘n’-tick stuff for the dogs, and the shopping bags, and … actually, now that I think about it, maybe it’d be easier if we just moved to Paris instead.



Filed under General Musings and Meanderings

2 responses to “The French Paradox

  1. Taking the time to enjoy the meal and the company, this is so true but there is also the fact that the French probably cook their own food and don’t eat process, frozen and fast food. They eat the real stuff and take the time to eat it properly!

  2. Paris! I loved my visit there when I was just a kiddo and I really loved my visit to the french countryside two years ago with my sis…but don’t for one minute let wikipedia mislead you, those people walk and walk and walk and then they bike all over the damn place for fun! Silly French!
    However, I vote for long lingering conversations over delicious food with butter and a glass of excellent wine!

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