The French Paradox

I remember seeing a segment on “60 Minutes” many years ago that affected me deeply. It was titled “The French Paradox,” and explored why the French — who eat butter, stinky cheeses, duck and other fat-rich foods with Dionysian abandon — had heart disease rates far lower than the United States and other developed countries.

The segment focused on two factors. The first, of course, was wine. The French consume more wine than any other people on earth, and there have been many studies linking lower rates of heart disease with moderate consumption of wine, red wine in particular. But it was the second factor that was even more intriguing to me, and where I had a moment on enlightenment. It was lifestyle.

A group of Frenchmen were shown sitting around a lunch table, toasting wine glasses, talking and laughing, and almost as an afterthought, eating their lunch. Lunch has always been a leisurely affair in France. Dining in general, to the French, is a ritual to be savored rather than an act of necessity. The segment then cut to a hot dog joint in New York, where there were no seats but a stand-up counter. A sign on the wall proudly proclaimed, “Average time ordering, eating and leaving: 5 minutes.” (I may have the details a bit foggy, but you get the idea.)

Society as a whole has not slowed any since the segment was originally aired in 1991. People, in fact, only seem to be moving faster — whether here or in France or anywhere else. And stopping to eat, like reading a newspaper or writing a letter or talking on the phone, has become something of a relic from another era. People are grabbing a bite on the go, eating take-out food while catching up on emails, tasting and texting at once. Sometimes driving, too!

I raise my fork in defiance of this trend.

The Slow Food movement was a direct response to the gas-pedal-flooring of food and lifestyle. That it began in Italy, where people have been raising food, harvesting it themselves, cooking with relish and eating leisurely with a big glass of wine is no particular surprise. That it has taken hold in America is. In the land of convenience and supersizing and hamburgers and fries, people are slowing down. Americans are still rushing home from work. But rather than rushing home to chow down a Stouffer’s microwave meal and plop in front of the TV, in many cases they are instead planning to get through the front door and slow down… pop open a bottle of wine, roll up their sleeves, cook and meal and maybe have some friends over to share it with. The interest I’ve received in this very food blog is — to me — a testament to the fact that, like the French, we are little-by-little becoming aware of how enjoyable a meal eaten slowly with a big glass of wine can be. And by the way, it’s better for you.

Like me, other Americans are raising their forks. Beware, McDonald’s, for there is a growing army of us.

Watch a brief highlight reel of “The French Paradox” on 60 Minutes.

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15 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Marie -Michelle Hewett
    Apr 10, 2012 @ 01:17:14

    Being French, having lived in LA for the past 29 years, but going back to France several times a year to our house in the South West, I am always surprised to see that French food shopping is still a family affair. Mom, Dad, kids, yes even teenagers, all join in choosing the food that will be used for making family meals. Visits to the supermarket or the farmers market are family trips.
    I heard many slightly heated discussions over which label of organic chicken tastes better< what cut of meat to get, or the preferences for the different cheeses at hand or the choice of tasty seasonal fruit. Younger children learn from their parents, grandparents, elders how to choose their food, engaging them in a different lifestyle. Not to say they don't love a "McDo" as the kids call it….
    Also note that even with the benefit of lowering cholesterol, with the consumption of red wine, there is still a considerable problem with "social" alcoholism…

    Reply

  2. Michelle
    Apr 10, 2012 @ 01:41:44

    Nice post! I’m glad to be raising the fork here, too. And equally glad that I’ll be heading to France in 100 days or so (not that I’m counting down or anything).

    Reply

    • scolgin
      Apr 10, 2012 @ 01:58:56

      Ughh! What is it with ALL these people going to France all of a sudden!!? }:-\ Major France envy.

      Reply

      • Michelle
        Apr 10, 2012 @ 02:03:41

        Got talked into Italy last year. Enjoyed it. But it wasn’t France!

      • scolgin
        Apr 10, 2012 @ 02:19:59

        I guess y’all are closer to Europe than we are. We go to Hawaii and Alaska and Mexico a lot.

      • Michelle
        Apr 10, 2012 @ 02:29:18

        Yeah, we always laugh about West Coast trips, especially with all the layovers: “We could be in France by now!” Not that we don’t love California…

      • scolgin
        Apr 10, 2012 @ 02:34:42

        California’s the best thing west of France! (says the native Californian!) And anyway, what’re you doing up so late!!?? It must be pushing 11 p.m. where you are (says the exhausted father of a toddler… 😉

  3. Ant Patty
    Apr 10, 2012 @ 03:01:16

    My big break in documentary film was as the Associate Producer for a NOVA on stress analysis of ancient buildings. My job was to research all the content; create and get the budget approved; hire the crew; find and set up all of the locations and smile as I did it. We of course had to shoot in France to tell the complex story of the building of the Gothic Cathedrals. I hired a local “fixer” to help get the permits to shot in and around Notre Dame, Amiens and Bourges. He hired a french lighting crew and we were set. At our first lunch the crew insisted on ordering 3 bottles of white wine, 3 bottles of red and the time to drink it all leisurely before getting back to work. The first day I didn’t drink, the 2nd, 3rd, and from then on I drank at every lunch and every dinner. We were on schedule and on budget. VIVA la France! Live and learn…

    Reply

  4. rachelocal
    Apr 10, 2012 @ 03:02:16

    YES! More wine, slower pace, less stress, better food.

    Reply

  5. Cookie
    Apr 10, 2012 @ 05:47:10

    It’s not that they really eat that stuff with Dionysian abandon….they eat it in small portions. They eat wonderful food but not a lot of it and they don’t snack. Really it ends up being calorie control just like it is for the rest of us.

    I think they walk more in a day than we do as well, which helps. Kind of like New Yorkers…..you rarely see a really fat one!

    Reply

  6. Cookie
    Apr 10, 2012 @ 05:48:39

    Oh and the Meditteranean diet? That was a diet of deprivation, in part. Meat was very scarce and there wasn’t a lot of food in general and you had to grow a lot of it yourself. Being poor and living in the country….now that’s healthy.

    Reply

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