It may have kids in the title, but the book is meant for adults.
Karen Le Billon takes her readers through her very funny, empathy-enducing, year-long experience of food re-education. She discovers the glories of eating through the demands placed on her children, but the revelations and life changes occur in her.
Let me give a little background. Ms. Le Billon (a former Rhodes scholar) and her French husband, both college professors, reside in Canada with their two daughters. Due to their schedules, they are able to travel back to her husband's home village to intimate themselves with family, history and culture. Soon after arrival she discovers that her previous encounters with the French and their food were all precursors to a much greater cultural shock; as she is now a resident, she needs to pick it up and eat as the French do and she has no idea why or how to do so.
And she resists. Vehemently, and sometimes with tears and an outburst. Forget the kids, this is an adult battle. What follows is her deeply reflective memoir of sorts about a love-hate relationship with food and the transformative sway the French way has in her own family, not the least of which is her observation of thin women eating full meals of rich food.
My favorite episode is the fourth chapter, L'art de la table: A Meal with Friends, and a Friendly Argument. After weeks of being ostracized, criticized, and demoralized, she finally sees a light. During the friendly argument someone says, 'It's not the act of eating, but rather the approach to eating that is the most distinctive element of French culture.' (65)
The French see the experience of pleasure as the primary reason to make, cultivate, and enjoy food. '
For the French,' someone remarks, 'the enjoyment of eating arises because they slow down, savor their food, and find deep meaning in sharing it with other people.' (162)
I don't know about you, but the only time I took real time enjoying a great meal was when we celebrated my husband's 30th birthday at a nice restaurant. It was better food than the every day and it was a special occasion, both reasons to savor the food. But to savor it on a daily basis? It never crossed my mind as possible or necessary.
Ms. Le Billon understands. Before I could stop myself, she writes, I retorted, "But few people are really that interested in eating such fancy food. And it's a terrible idea to make everyone eat the same way. People should be allowed to choose what they eat!"
Conversely, the North American (and UK?) approachseeks pleasureful taste second (or third) to nutrition, budget, ease, time, etc. "But choose what?" said Antoine with a smile. "Sure, Americans are free to choose, but they end up making terrible choices. They have no standards for what, when, or how they eat. And they often eat alone. We all know the result!" (68)
Ms. Le Billon touches on the result in a recent blog post, highlighting how the French obesity rate is roughly 1/3 that of the United States'. One-third! And when I read Antoine's comment I sourly admitted that I had little standard for what, when or how I ate. In fact, Hawk and I regularly ate all day long. I recall one of my favorite college professors (whom I wrote about here) explaining his no food, no drink class policy as I sipped my diet Coke unthinkingly, directly in front of him. Constant eating and drinking was so much a part of my activity, and the activities of those around me, that I did so without thinking! And I am by no means overweight. I've wanted to shed a few pounds in this year or that, but technically my BMI and all those medical numbers kept me in the normal range.
We eat something with added nutrients, and it may or may not taste good. We eat standing up. We eat on the run. We eat quickly. We eat cheaply. I'm not talking McDonald's here, I'm talking grocery store! Before reading this book I shopped with budget, ease, and nutrition
Think anecdotally. I'd bet the last time you and a friend talked about your upcoming menu, one of you raved about how easy or healthy it was and then you added, oh and it tastes good, too. We may have Italian, Kenyan, Thai backgrounds and we may make recipes accordingly, but as a culture on the whole, food is a commodity, it is consumed far more than it is enjoyed.
So how has this principle changed me? I'm going into greater detail this week, but let me list is out for you:
- I look forward to eating every meal.
- I look forward to cooking meals, and I am finally learning how to cook!
- I eat foods that taste marvelous.
- I enjoy food guilt-free, and that food is good.
- I spend twice as much time at the dinner table.
- I spend twice as much time with my kids.
- I'm losing weight effortlessly, and appropriately. And I never work out.
- My food likes have quadrupled. I'm trying more foods than ever before, and I buy/cook seasonal produce. Variety is so good!
- I eat bread. Sugared items. High-fat and high-caloric foods. Nothing real is off-limits.
I can't wait to share more. If you've discovered the book as well, do let us know!
See you tomorrow with more about food, pleasure, and the joy of eating.