In an article published on the Global Post in November, America was listed as the third fattest country in the world, followed by Germany in a close 4th. France was nowhere to be seen on this list. Yet just a few months ago, women everywhere breathed a sigh of relief when they learned that French women DO, in fact, get fat and are therefore not inhuman as once believed. The study reports that 15% of French women are obese and 26% are overweight – not exactly living up to their image of restraint and slenderness. Before you get too excited, I should note that the levels of obesity that are currently appearing in France match those of the United States in the 1970′s! 40 years of catching up to resemble the fast-food scarfing-sugar-addicted-sedentary American…It should be said that the study doesn’t indicate how much of an increase this actually is from last year or even over the last 10 years, so I’m assuming it’s rather small.
Having conducted quite a bit of research on the myth of French perfection while I was in grad school, I still find the issue extremely interesting and continue to notice quite a number of increasingly unhealthy behaviors, aside from the usual culprits – cigarettes and caffeine addiction. Most of these behaviors, however, can be attributed to Americanization and consequently the ubiquity of fast food establishments and packaged goods.
Starbucks is a great example of this. Although their “legendary” service is noticeably absent from their cafés in Paris, Parisian yuppies and mainstream-everything lovers flock to one of 40 Starbucks locations in their skinny jeans and clicky heels to overindulge treat themselves to a snuggly cup of coffee. Having worked at Starbucks for two years, I know the ins and outs of their drinks and can imagine what kind of muffin-top magnets are loaded into the beverages developed since I left the company.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with a Chai Tea Frappuccino if you’re walking into knowing that you will be drinking dessert. But I don’t think the French fully grasp how unhealthy those mixed drinks are and they make that perfectly obvious by pairing a Venti Crème Brûlée Mocha Heart Attack with a decadent pastry. When the ados are out of school for the day, ready for their goûter (snack), the cafés come alive with bustling and sugar highs. I will give the French Starbucks one thing, their pastry case is far more appetizing looking than any I’ve ever seen in the States.
Yes, the French have a more developed sense of moderation and restraint, but the culture is changing. The concept of eating on the go or behind a computer screen has made its way from the U.S. to France, opening up the possibility for otherwise healthy, sensible eating habits to deteriorate. Cédric happens to work for a company that forbids the employees to stay at their desks during lunch. They all must go to the cafeteria to eat lunch with the other brainiacs where they undoubtedly discuss turbines and propellers over a piping hot plate of spaghetti bolognese. This type of daily communal eating is a rarity now in the workplace.
What brought this about?
This post was inspired not by Starbucks, nor the pleasure I secretly get knowing that these Parisian stick figures won’t be able to fit in those skinny jeans for long if they keep up their Starbucks habit, but by a series of pamplets I have received over the course of the last several weeks as I exited the metro in the morning. Sponsored by the government and the INPES (National Institute for Health Prevention and Education), the brochures are meant to educate people on the dangers of consuming too much sugar, salt and fat. I couldn’t help but chuckle when I read them.
I see the point in these brochures, and maybe people actually consider the information for five minutes after throwing them in the garbage, but I doubt they’re any more effective than the caution on all food commercials not to snack between meals and, oh, don’t forget to be active.
Maybe French genetics will prove us all wrong and they will manage to continue eating potatoes as vegetables and buttery croissants for breakfast and chocolate as snacks, but I think French claims to gastronomical superiority are officially on the verge of extinction.
Lindsey is the creator of Lost In Cheeseland: Musings on food, love, life and struggles in Paris. She is a Paris transplant from Philadelphia, married to a Frenchman and on a permanent quest to understand the idiosyncrasies of the French. Having battled food and body image issues, she has struggled to find a balance in Paris where food is ubiquitous and bodies are tiny. In real life, she is in charge of Marketing & Communications for an online boutique.