Sunday, June 19, 2011

A French Perspective on Lifestyle Changes in France

Christina Pontet selecting cheese at the Marché 

On Wednesday we met Christina Pontet in St. Maximin Ste. Baume, a village near the Côte d’Azur. We sipped coffee at a local café and then walked through the largest outdoor Marché (market) I’ve ever seen.  We accompanied her as she led us to numerous stalls of tantalizing foods where she bought fresh fish, oysters, zucchini, new potatoes, goat cheese, and cherries for a lunch that she prepared for us that day.  

Selling Fish at the Marche

Christina likes to buy foods from people who are local to St. Maximin.  She also noted that the red mullet she selected had been caught the night before or that morning near Marseille. 

On the day of our arrival in France, I had inquired whether Christina, the proprietor of our apartment in Aix-en-Provence, was interested in being interviewed for the Whole Mind Wellness blog.  I had asked Christina to talk with me about changes in France that have led to increasing rates in overweight and obesity, and happily she agreed.  To our delight, she also generously asked us to her home for lunch. 
The garden at Christina's home
Christina prepares zucchini with herbs
After shopping at the Marché we arrived at “La maison” located on a quiet hillside.  What a paradise! There we met Christina's family including her husband Frédéric, son Adrien, and Frédéric’s mother.  Adrien took us on a stroll through the garden along narrow wooded paths filled with trees and herbs while Christina began preparing our lunch.  

Christina says that she cooks simple Mediterranean foods with herbs, olive oil, and lots of garlic.    We enjoyed the family’s company over a scrumptious “déjeuner” (lunch).  Christina suggested that we eat our fish over a grilled baguette spread with a pimento tapenade.  What a marvelous idea!  We completed the meal with rounds of goat cheese and sweet cherries for dessert.   

Our talk turned to the trends of increasing overweight and obesity occurring in developed countries including France.  Her concern is that much of the change in eating habits may be from the quality of the food that people put in their bodies. Christina mentioned that there is a saying in French, "Dis-mois ce que tu manges et je te dirai qui tu es" that means, "Tell me what you eat and I'll tell you who you are."

Christina observed that the lifestyle habits of the US have taken hold in France especially in the cities and with a younger generation of persons 15 to 35 years.  They no longer have time for a full meal at lunch with their families.  The well known two hour French lunch has been replaced by grabbing a sandwich over a 30-40 minute break. 

Also, people in French cities especially come home from work at night too tired to cook as in the US.  So, they eat industrial food heated in the microwave for dinner and then watch television or get on the computer.  Christina observed that this is a passive life of, “I exist. I buy. I consume.”   A change in this trend will require people to make their own decisions rather than going along with the current lifestyle in France.  She believes that making choices requires active awareness and reflection on the available options along with exposure to a variety of people and perspectives. 

Christina noted that we have more leisure time than ever before and yet we feel more rushed.  Her parents worked longer hours, yet didn’t feel as hurried as we do because they led a much simpler life. 

Her observations raise the question:  “Is a passive life that gives us more of everything necessarily better?  What alternatives can you suggest?

Lunch with Christina and her family 

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