Mireille Guiliano’s book French Women Don’t Get Fat is a comprehensive analysis of how to eat the “French way.” Mireille uncovers the veiled myth of the “French Paradox” surrounding the naturally beautiful, thin French woman by answering the question, “How does she do it?” throughout the length of the book. One could argue that it does not naturally make sense how French women enjoy breads and pastries on a daily basis with regular three-course meals but still manage to be thin, but Guiliano begs to differ. A French woman herself, Guiliano recounts her own experience with the travails of food and what she has learned along her journey to ultimately have a healthy relationship with food.
The message she imparts is not to starve or deprive yourself, but to enjoy and savor the food you are eating instead of worrying about the apparent “nasty effects” of caloric intake. Ignoring the negative “don’ts” of dieting and substituting a positive mindset is to be accompanied by positive actions such as portion control and recasting for noticeable results. In short, Guiliano’s style of living and appreciating food is the essence of the idiom “less is more.”
Rick Steves’ Paris 2010 offers a complete chapter dedicated to food in Paris. Right from the introduction we are introduced to the prominence and cultural experience of food within Parisian society:
“Parisians eat long and well. Relaxed lunches, three-hour dinners, and endless hours of sitting in outdoor cafes are in the norm. Local cafes, cuisine, and wines become a highlight of any Parisian adventure-sightseeing for your palate.” (Steves 387).
In fact, a whole part of the Rick Steves’ “Eating in Paris” section is dedicated to “Picnics and Snacks.” It notes that Parisian shopkeepers are accustomed to selling small picnic-like portions and advises in advance that you would have to visit many small shops to assemble a complete meal. He even goes as far to suggest good picnic spot locations such as the Palais Royal or the Henry IV park on the west tip of Ile de la Citè.
I know that we are scheduled to walk the Rue Cler to collect our own lunches for our first Eiffel Tower picnic. Again, Rick Steves dedicates a whole section and chapter to the Rue Cler, describing it as a “festival of food” with “polished produce, rotisserie chicken, crepes, or cheese” (Steves 403). A self-guided tour of the walk suggests storefronts to buy select foods according to type (i.e. bread, wine, fruits and vegetables, etc.). Shopping for fresh groceries in France is almost a daily activity for Parisians. It is also a time to socialize and get to know the local shopkeepers.
After reading Guiliano’s French Women Don’t Get Fat and the “Eating in Paris” section of Rick Steves Paris 2010, I would narrow my food interests for Paris to be primarily in cheese, fresh fruits and vegetables, and dessert. I am a vegetarian and my diet at home primarily consists of dairy products (a large majority of that being cheese) and bread products along with a penchant for a sweet tooth. Rick Steves suggest some excellent places for these particular types of foods along the Rue Cler; the fromagerie for cheese, the boulangerie for bread and the La Mère de Famille Gourmand Chocolats Confiseries for chocolate, just to name a few. I am excited for real, fresh food each day as opposed to genetically modified, hydrogenated supermarket stuff in the U.S.
Perfect breakfast: omelette du fromage et un cafe creme.
Post market/Fran Prix shopping. First few days in our Paris apartments.
Dinner party! Leek soup (taken from Mireille), bruschetta, baguette and cheese, and wine.
The dinner party group.
I wrote in my journal, copied here, in my blog, as well on the Rue Cler walk (Sunday, May 16):
“I still can't believe how fresh and locally-grown everything is. The smell of the food in the markets here is inescapable. One can literally smell it from blocks away. I realized that in Phoenix and in the U.S. in general, this basic luxury is essentially nonexistent. In fact, mostly everything is imported and vacuum-sealed in some kind of way. Even our deli's pretty much "encage" the food, supposedly delivered and made fresh daily. And you'd think I had gotten the blueberries, but I didn't! Actual cranberries, instead. I have never had a real cranberry before and no, Ocean Spray cran-grape does not count.
My resulting lunch post-market shopping at the Eiffel Tower green. So much fromage (cheese)! According to Dalton/Susser there's one different type of cheese for each day of the year. Another reason to love the French kitchen: not only is food shopping done every two days on average, but everything is left out on the counter to briefly age to its purest ripeness. A refrigerator is only useful for what was not eaten the day of purchase that must be in a cool environment to be eaten the next day.”
The same day, I recorded my breakfast for that morning:
“Today's breakfast: omelette au fromage (cheese omelette. Yes, more cheese) at L'Ecir cafe. I really do love being a morning person here. Just sitting, enjoying the food and the morning. It made me question why I let myself have 10 minutes to spare in the morning back at home to gulp down coffee and run out the door. Oh yeah, there's nothing wonderful outside besides rocks.”
Experiencing food in Paris is completely different from the food experience back at home. Food is such a basic human need that I think that its cultural significance is sometimes overlooked. I wouldn’t go as far to say that Mireille’s answer to America’s obesity problem is to stop dieting and start eating four-course meals. It’s mainly the conscious realization of what you are putting into your mouth, the nutritious value of it and the employment of all senses, for:
“French women know that the pleasure of most foods is in the first few bites; we [French women] rarely have seconds” (Guiliano 31).
I learned to employ my senses on the first bite of food and to take my time while eating. Oftentimes at home I feel that most of my meals are rushed with the “so much to do in so little time” mentality. I almost would say that I look upon food as an inconvenience at home, since while I am stressing myself out thinking about things that need to be done while I am eating, it bothers me to realize that those I could be doing those things in place of the time I was eating.
Eating in France is an art in itself. It is an exciting and enriching experience. I realized while I was there that though there is a “French cuisine” of specific staples such as bread, cheese and wine, there are variations to each type. For instance, there are so many variations of the classic baguette and hundreds of different types of cheeses to choose from. When I returned to the States, I found myself seeking out French places such as Essence Bakery in Tempe and Scratch Pastries and Chez-Vous restaurant, both in Scottsdale. I would meet up with a few people from the trip and take my other friends and family members to these places to try and recapture the France experience. Though not the same, of course, they were very much comparable. I looked upon food as not something to rush through and devour in one gulp, but to savor and taste on the palate and enjoying time with people who are close to me.