|[Renoir, 1881: Le déjeuner des canotiers]|
Yes, it's counterintuitive. Most Americans are convinced that if only we could eat little enough fat, ingest few enough calories, spend enough sweaty minutes at the gym, and drink exactly 5 ounces of red wine a day, then we might live forever--with enough expensive medical intervention, of course.
The French, par contre, are famous bons vivants. They enjoy butter, red meat, long loaves of fresh bread, and out-of-this-world pastries. They love their wine, they tend to avoid exercise, and they get 30 days of paid vacation every year.
In her bestselling 2005 book, Mireille Guiliano claimed that French Women Don't Get Fat. Some do, of course, but only about 18% (compared to 33% in America). Weight, however, is not the point, even though Americans are obsessed with it. Health is a lot more important. French women win in that category too, living to about age 85 (compared to 81 for American women).
How can the French eat so richly and live so long? Researchers call it the French paradox, and they don't agree about how it works. Here's my theory, for what it's worth:
If you really love good food, you'll stock up on fresh produce, fresh-baked breads, fresh meat and fish, scrumptious cheese, and homemade desserts (unless you live near a French pâtisserie). Why waste time on junk food, convenience food, or fast food? To quote scripture out of context, "Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food" (Isaiah 55.2).
If you really love good food, you'll eat it three times a day. You'll suspect that people who snack on crappy stuff all day and then come home too ravenous to cook real food probably don't have their priorities straight.
If you really love good food, you'll turn your meals into celebrations. You'll eat beautifully, choosing a variety of colorful foods and, sometimes, putting flowers on the table. You'll eat mindfully, savoring tastes and aromas. You'll eat gratefully, giving thanks for farmers and cooks and grocers and friends.
You can celebrate whether you're at a party, at table with family and friends, or eating alone. Eating regular, beautiful meals of fresh food is not all that hard to do. It doesn't have to be expensive. It's a lot more fun than the usual American way of eating. And, oddly, celebratory eating tends to make us look good, feel good, and live long.
This is part of a series of short posts especially for people who attend St Barnabas Episcopal Church in Glen Ellyn, IL, where I'll be leading conversations about food on September 22, September 29, and October 6. I'll post about food every weekday between September 16 and October 4.