The French attitude to food, Part 1

Cries of "à table" ring out in maisons across France. How would a more social approach to dining affect Canadians?

Credit: Michael Robertson

“French paradox”? French eating is about more than nutrition and taste. It’s about culture and friends.

The “French paradox”? Volumes have been written about the relationship the French have with their food


[As if you couldn’t tell from the recent theme of my posts, I’m in France right now… To return at the end of the month. —Michael]


The, so-called, French paradox has long perplexed “Anglo-Saxons,” jealous of the French ability to drink wine and scoff all manner of cheeses and buttery-creamy dishes while suffering fewer cardiac problems (and maintaining their svelte physiques).


Eating is a social occasion

One of the theories put forward to explain the French paradox is that the French don’t go back for seconds (not true) or snack (then why do they have the words casse-croûte, goûter and grignoter?). It’s more a case that the French don’t eat alone.


Eating is a social event. It helps if you think about eating alone in the same context as drinking alone; it’s okay, but if you do it all the time you might have a problem.


The French do, however, tend to eat in a more orderly fashion.


Slow down your eating

Not only is eating together a given, it is full of little rituals that draw out the process and slow things down so you have time to enjoy it and digest. There’s a reason they have two-hour lunch breaks. A typical dinner at my French friends’ house might go something like this:

   > Main course

   > Little bit of cheese with the end of the morning’s bread (it’s important to note that the cheese comes before dessert, otherwise they think you’re weird)

   > Dessert – maybe an apple purée, some ice cream or a yogurt

   > Tea, tisane or coffee


(Variations may include a little aperitif before the meal and a little digestif after the tea.)


Walking and eating is the new drinking and driving

Last weekend on a road trip to Notre Dame de Mesange my friend and I stopped at the petrol station to grab a sandwich for dinner (don’t judge me, we were in a hurry). As I headed back to the car with my sandwich, I realised that my friend was heading in the other direction. For him we were eating dinner, which meant sitting down and enjoying it, even if it was a petrol station sandwich. To my surprise, the sandwich was café calibre rather than petrol station soggy—something I probably wouldn’t have noticed had I bolted it while staring at the road.


The lesson: Sit down to eat with others. Not only will it make you enjoy your food more but it’ll force you to stop and take some time for yourself.


Read The French Attitude to Food: Part Two