Close Encounters of the Food Kind: Single-Minded, Whole-Hearted Attention to Eating

Dec 16, 2008 by

How do the French get away with eating loads of high fat foods, and with such enjoyment, while remaining thinner and healthier than us Americans?  Viva la difference! It’s a question with a hundred answers.

For starters, let’s look at the French traditions of the table.  The guidelines to follow are small portions, of good things, in sequence.

Small Portions

The French value quality in food over quantity. The all-you-can-eat buffet is a foreign concept to them. What would be the point? Adults enjoy Real Food, and assume, in a self-fulfilling prophecy, that children will enjoy it, too. The French take largely for granted that Real Food is necessarily for health and life, and go straight to eating and drinking for enjoyment.

Americans more often eat Real Food “because it’s good for me.” We also tend to value getting stuffed more, and getting drunk over drinking in appreciation of flavor. We accept a lesser quality of food as long as there is a lot of it.

Good Things

The French delight in Real Food well prepared, frankly and shamelessly. They love food in a way many Americans can only imagine. At the table, a varied, balanced spread of flavors, aromas, textures and colors is the main attraction. Eating is its own reward.

For many Americans, though, eating is a necessary evil, associated with pain and shame.  Our appetite is the enemy, leading us into danger. Eating is tied to conflict: resisting what you want to eat, eating what you don’t want, and fighting with kids to do the same.

Many Americans moms not only hate to cook, but find it necessary to resort to distraction or disguise to get kids to eat. We try to take kids’ minds off the food itself. We try to make food look like something else by cutting it into “fun” shapes or adding whimsical colors. We sweeten the pill by turning eating into a game, like the classic subterfuge of the spoon as airplane going into the mouth.

We draw a line between bland, healthy food and yummy junk food. Then we are left no choice but to offering incentives to make the unappealing healthy food palatable.

In Sequence

The French meal is a daily special event with a deliberate focus on the food. The ritual of eating in courses isn’t just for fancy meals. Simple, everyday food is savored and celebrated together in particular ways that add to enjoyment. The appetite is invoked through the leisurely pace of the meal, with attention to the food in all its glory.  We anticipate, our mouths water, our digestion is activated, we are prepared to enjoy and to experience.

The American typically crowds the plates, with everything all at once and all together. We get it over with, filling-station style, as quickly as possible.

If you do decide to try eating the French way, by all means do it for the enjoyment, not for the results, though you will probably get both.


© Sacred Appetite/ Anna Migeon / 16 December 2008 / All rights reserved