By Sheryl Smolkin
Read this article and comments at Moneyville.ca
The International Red Cross reported recently that globally, obese people now outnumber the undernourished. After my trip to France last month, it seems to me we may be able to cure both the obesity epidemic and world hunger if we all ate like the French.
In anticipation of the culinary challenges that awaited me on my vacation, I went on a peremptory diet early this summer and took off 10 pounds. Much to my surprise, although I ate full breakfasts and multi-course meals for two weeks in Europe I didn’t gain back any weight.
Of course we were doing a great deal of walking, but there is no way I maintained my weight due to our activity level alone. Although every meal included bread, an appetizer, main course and desert, I think the key was definitely small portions. We also spent an hour and a half to two hours over every dinner, instead of the more typical 15 or 20 minutes we take to bolt down our one course meals at home.
High calorie fast food is also less prevalent in France. Of course McDonalds and several other North American chains have made minor inroads, primarily into tourist areas. But most of the natives are not dumb enough to depend on them for primary sustenance. Why would they, when on every street corner there is an exquisite patisserie or bistro?
Excellent, reasonable sized portions of wonderful food are not limited to high end restaurants in the cities. On the way from Barcelona to Arles where we joined our river cruise, we stopped in Perpignan for a lunch break. In a park food shack that I would typically expect to sell hot dogs and hamburgers, the menu included a baguette with duck and foie gras for six euros! At a truck stop on the same route, the cafeteria was selling raspberry tarts and coq au vin.
I’m not the first person to notice the difference between attitudes to food in France and North America. Mireille Guiliano’s book French Women Don’t Get Fat has sold over 3 million copies worldwide in 40 languages. The story is told through the experience of a young French woman who studies in the U.S. and comes home much heavier than when she left. Emphasizing the virtues of freshness, variety, balance and always pleasure, Guiliano shows how virtually anyone can learn to eat, drink and move like a French woman.
Obesity and world hunger are complex problem. Nevertheless, I can’t help thinking that if there were some practical way to reduce the amount we eat by 20 per cent and donate 20 per cent of our grocery budget to those who don’t know where their next meal is coming from, perhaps we could make inroads into both
Writing a cheque is the easy part, if you have the money. For most of us, the real challenge is our inability to make the right food choices and push back from the table when we’ve had enough. I’m planning to buy a copy of Guiliano’s book and keep it on the kitchen counter for inspiration.