Frenchitude Lesson #11: Cherish Real Food

Frenchitude Lesson #11: Cherish Real Food
I was planning on writing about a completely different topic this week for Frenchitude Friday, but this morning I received a series of emails from my two sisters that made me swivel in my tracks.


The first email was from older sister Suzanne who, on volunteering to bake for a elementary school bake sale back home in Victoria, BC, was informed that the Canadian government has recently legislated that all food at school bake sales has to be “healthy”, meaning containing almost no fat, salt, or sugar.

She was even passed on a government-issued document about how to replace white flour with whole wheat flour, sugar with honey, chocolate with carob, and (dare we even utter the name, rather like “Voldemort” in Harry Potter) butter with margarine.

Here is Suzanne’s reaction,

“Jesus H Christ. Now the bake sale at the school dance has to consist of “healthy” snacks. This just tempts me to bake the chipits recipe for choc. cookies and to insist to all and sundry that it is made with “just applesauce and a tablespoon of honey!!!” Chocolate chips are really just baked potato hunks and crusty boogers! Lots of protein! No Butter! Just fake goo made of chemicals!

When will the idiots get it through their skulls that maybe the children should only eat ONE cookie, but for God’s sake make it a good one. Let’s just make sure all North American children lose the power to think for themselves. As if they will never come across a real cookie out there in the real world.”

My younger sister Jayne responded;

“Perhaps the problems with the obesity in North America is that no one here ever eats anything that HAS ANY FLAVOUR. So they must eat obscene amounts of food to actually get any satisfaction.

I should lend you the “In Defense of Food” book – it’s pretty enjoyable and a quick read – the author basically blames most of the obesity epidemic on the fact that eating has become a scientific act rather than a cultural one (subsequently losing much enjoyment and becoming increasingly associated with “health” and “guilt”)… tres interesting.

One particularly interesting statistic had to do with what words came to mind when people were shown an image of a certain food. When French people are shown a picture of chocolate cake they associate it with “celebration”, while North Americans associate it with “guilt”. Lovely. So, yes, let’s teach the children not to eat lovely foods in moderation but rather to deprive themselves with nasty turd cookies full of chemicals and dairy substitutes so that they gorge when presented with real food later in life. Also, let’s teach them that food is only about nutrition and percentage fat, carb, whatever, rather than a chance to sit down and share something pleasant with friends and family (?!). ”

Sadly due to the nine hour time difference I was sleeping throughout this riveting exchange, but BOY did it ever get my ire up when I got to the computer this morning. I cannot agree more with my brilliants sisters’ eloquent statements.

I cannot believe that the Canadian government is legislating that sugar needs to be replaced with honey and butter with the-devil’s-work-that-is-margarine at school bake sales.

First of all, short of preventing anyone from slipping marijuana into the Brownies, I think governments should stay out of the bake sale arena altogether. Secondly, if they really are serious about teaching the younger generation good eating habits, STOP THE INSANITY!!! THEY ARE GOING ABOUT IT COMPLETELY WRONG!!!

As Jayne’s email mentions in France, children are taught to enjoy a variety of real food as early as possible.

The baby food here in not only safe and healthy, it also tastes delicious. This is a radical departure from the tasteless, gelatinous, no salt-added gloop they serve up to poor North American babies. Clem’s baby food is so damn good that Franck and I can often be found polishing off what is left at the bottom of the jar.

Clem as a French baby (for the moment) is being introduced to the pleasure of good food and the passionate world of flavours in dishes as diverse as “CousCous” and “Pot-auFeu.” French parents are far more obsessed with transmitting their passion of food to their babies than teaching them about low fat substitutes.

When I first arrived in France it took me a few weeks to realize that the French will not put a morsel of anything into their mouth, healthy or not, that is not delicious. This completely altered my world view. I had never felt so satisfied, I had never before eaten such a wide diversity of fresh and wonderful food, I had never before been able to eat what my body desired without feeling guilty. It was heaven on earth, and of course without even realizing it I was beginning to undo the damage of a lifetime of atrocious eating habits. I was eating more healthily than I ever had before in my life.

Leaning on the eminently sane and pleasurable way of eating I have learned in France, these are the habits that I try to gently instill in my girls (more by example than by lecturing);

Lesson #1: It is important to try new things, because if you don’t you may be missing out on a food that you in fact love.

Lesson #2: Eat SOME of everything (and I mean EVERYTHING, including fruit and vegetables) but NOT TOO MUCH of anything. This is a concept that seems to have disappeared in North American teachings – it’s called moderation.

Lesson #3: Food is, and should always be, a source of pleasure. Don’t ever let anyone make you feel guilty for nourishing your body and your soul. If you feel like a piece of delicious cake, enjoy a piece of delicious cake and don’t let anybody try to turn this into a “guilty pleasure”. It is a pleasure, period. Guilt has never been an enjoyable or instructive guest at the table, so don’t invite him.

Lesson #4: Pleasure is enhanced by eating at the table and with friends and / or family wherever possible. Take time to talk, savour, and relax. This time is sacred, treat it as such.

Lesson#5: If you think you don’t like something, try it every once in a while and you may be pleasantly surprised.

Lesson #6: Getting outside and walking, biking, playing, etc. is also one of life’s important pleasures that you should not deny yourself.

I happen to believe that unless you are dealing with an underlying medical condition, “real” food is always better than what I consider fake food. I have never ate a 0% fat yogurt and actually felt satisfied afterward. Don’t even get me started on all the calves hooves and other chemical junk that are in there to give it that gelatinous texture without fat.

Let’s face it – our bodies always find a way to get their satisfaction. Real food, including butter, sugar, cream, cheese, and wine, by its high satisfaction ratio leads us to another key in healthy eating -moderation! I would feel far more satisfied with a tiny sliver of my French Chocolate Cake than with a dozen bran, honey, and margarine turd cookies that will be undoubtedly be sold at Suzanne’s children’s bake sale.

I have never seen a society that is so adept at vilifying real food (i.e. bread, butter, wine, oil, chocolate, etc.) as North Amercia. The damaging and unhealthy attitude towards food is an aspect of moving back to Canada that frankly strikes terror in my heart.

Why don’t the seriously misguided Food Police in North America adopt a bit of Frenchtitude and work on replacing a food culture centred on fear and denial with one centred on enjoyment?

For starters, instead of interfering in school bake sales they could fund a country wide program which could allow students to sit down at a proper table with proper cutlery and enjoy delicious, healthy, diverse, and freshly cooked meals at lunchtime while chatting with their friends and learning the crucial social aspect of eating like here in France. Wouldn’t this be a real improvement over scoffing back a peanut butter sandwich at their desk?

The Food Police have to be made to realize that enjoyment absolutely can go hand in hand with health and excellent nutrition.

Real Food is not our enemy, it is our best friend.

And I agree with Jayne that Suzanne should bake my French chocolate cake and take it to the bake sale. When asked by the Food Police how it can possibly taste so good, or how such a little portion can be SO satisfying, she should just blink innocently and answer, “Can you believe it? I managed to reduce the flour in it to only one tablespoon!”

This is a photo of my friend Isabelle’s famous caramelized pear-chocolate tarte, one of the delicious and REAL FOOD recipes I will be posting over the next few weeks, and adding to my Favorite Recipes category on this very blog.

I swear to you here and now, you will never find a butter substitute anywhere near The Grape Journal.

**Frenchitude Fridays (French + Attitude = Frenchitude) give ideas for injecting a bit of frenchness into your life, whether you live in Florida or Florence.