Eating Together

Eating together
The starter I've prepared for dinner: a few cherry tomatoes and a big sliced one, feta cheese, some lettuce, a bit of chicken cut in dices, olive oil, vinegar, pepper, salt, that's it. Bon appétit!

'French women don't get fat', a US best-seller book stated. It's almost true: despite their food is usually considered rich, the French have the average lowest corpulence in Europe, relatively low rates of diabetes and coronary diseases, and are among the people with the longest longevity. Many reasons have been given as an explanation for this French paradox, that include habits of eating small portions of several foods rather than one huge portion, using olive oil, eating a lot of dairy produce and vegetables, drinking red wine, and walking rather than driving for short distances.

According to a recent study by the INSEE, the French Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies, there may be also another cultural reason: the ritualization of meals, a distinctive features of French people, most of whom still take their meals together at a given time. Such a synchronisation of meals, at around 13h for lunch and 20h for dinner, 'distinguishes France from most other countries in Europe and the United States, where traditional meal — conceived like a moment shared by all members of a family gathering together on this occasion — almost disappeared at the end of the 1970's', the study says.

Dinner, especially,'is still a mandatory stage in daily timetable of the French, one of last refuges of family socialization'. Indeed, it is often the only common activity for married people who go their separate professional life in the daytime, and the moment when parents and children have a time to talk together. Meals are not only considered a moment when you fill up your stomach as fast as possible, but a dedicated period of the day when you talk and share with your family.

I love the idea that gathering together and sharing meals is beneficial to relations between members of a family, and to health as well.

Oops, by the way... I got to go: it's 8:00 pm now, dinner time here!

18 comment(s):

    Mmmm, that starter looks lovely. Minus the chicken for me thanks, I am one of those strange vegetarian types.

    I was interested to read this. I'm afraid I scoffed when I saw that book on the shelves (not 'serious enough' for me, I guess), but the reasons why there may be truth in it, that you outline are very interesting.

    I came from a large family, and we almost had a 'survival of the fittest' rule at mealtimes. We tended to sit and eat everything we could get our hands on. Our father also had a ridiculous 'eat everything, or else,' rule that I believe instilled some rather unhealthy eating habits. This was very common for the time, and I wonder if the fact that their parents had lived through the depression where food was scarce, shaped this to a degree

    The concept of sitting down at mealtimes is something I value. It is not always possible with the different timetables we operate under around there, but when we can, we make a point of all sitting together at mealtimes. As you say, it is beneficial to the family, often the only time to really communicate. Unfortunately, it doesn't make me eat less though. And I probably overdo the red wine, too, if I am honest.

    Well, it is 1:00 pm now, time for lunch here!


    That's funny, it seems every Australian woman I 'know' does not eat meat... Is it so frequent to be a vegan is Australia?

    I haven't read the book 'French women don't get fat' myself (it was just a hook for introducing the blog, shhh). The sentence is not 100% true either, of course, and unfortunately things are probably changing in the wrong direction. Statistics are statistics though, what they call the 'French Paradox' still exists, and the great habit to seat and eat together is probably part of it.

    "Eat everything, or else?" I am okay with that! After all, the French will eat almost everything. Snails included, yum.


    I don't know that it is frequent to be vegetarian or vegan, but it is certainly not uncommon. Until recently I ate seafood. I am not sure why, perhaps because fish are not cute and fluffy. It did not turn my stomach to think of eating a fish in the same way it did with a furry or feathered creature. One day recently though, I woke up and thought I should be consistent. But, I am not vegan, I cannot resist cheese, and I love eggs. I only eat eggs (wherever possible) from organic free range chickens. Therefore I can pretend that they are happy to be exploited by humans, as they are 'happy' chickens. Cheese? Well, I'm afraid I just deny there is animal content in the rennet. And, I wear leather shoes and carry a leather handbag, so I guess I make no sense!

    Somehow I hadn't imagined you sitting there reading that book. From what I have read of your posts, and what I assume to be your profession, the idea of you trawling through such a book did not seem to work with the image inside my head. I did read somewhere that the French dietary habits are shifting more toward those of the USA, which is hardly a positive shift if the recent health reports and news footage are to believed.

    'Eat everything, or else,' is okay, but unfortunately if you are a child and served too much, it is a habit that is hard to break in adulthood.

    It is funny you mention snails. I wanted to try them in Paris, as at that time I still ate seafood, and I reasoned that they were the land equivalent of prawns. But I never got around to it. I have a French ancestor who migrated to Australia in the 1850's and the name still continues. When I was a child the name was very unusual (still is), and I used to get teased for eating snails, though I never had. Perhaps that memory stuck with me as I walked past places selling them in Paris.

    The one thing I do not understand is the eating of frogs legs. I asked someone about that, well actually I asked what happens to the rest of the frog. I imagined the poor little critters in some sort of frog occupational health facility after the multi-limb amputation. He shook his head and told me that Australian vegetarians are very strange. Seriously though, it does seem an awful waste to kill a frog and only eat the legs. I was trying to find out if something is done with the rest of the frog.


    Very nice presentation of your first course Billy! I think it's important that food looks as good as it tastes. A friend of mine bought Guiliano's book and I skimmed through it. I wouldn't say French women don't get fat, but I have my own ideas why Parisian women don't get fat!

    I pulled up an old article that I wrote a few years ago concerning this topic and posted it on my blog. What I do find interesting is what you say about the French sitting and eating together. It's so true and it's one of the things I love most about life in France. Putting a correlation between people eating together and people staying thin, however, is an interesting concept.

    Unfortunately in the US, the majority of Americans do not eat their meals together. The excuse seems to be that everyone has a different time schedule or different activities that they find it almost impossible to sit down to dinner together. Many Americans are incapable of carrying on a conversation at the dinner table! That's probably why they watch television while eating! About the only time you'll see families getting together is for special occasions like Thanksgiving or Christmas; the rest of the year, it's every man for himself!

    I agree with Michelle, I think our parents and grandparents were brought up with the idea that we shouldn't waste food and we had to eat everything that was on our plates. Not a good forming habit for generations to come, but that's the way it was!

    I love eating escargots! You have to try it next time you're in France, Michelle! You bring up a question that most people don't think about! What about the rest of the frog? Hmm, I'll have to ask Patrick what they do with the rest of the frog. (As you may very well know since I mention it from time to time on my blog, he use to be a French chef for many years until he sold his restaurant.) I would imagine they use it for making stock, but that's just a wild guess! (I'm not the cook!) According to Patrick, nothing is wasted in the kitchen!


    You just taught me the difference between vegetarian and vegan, Michelle! Until today, I believed the latter word was an abbreviation of the former... As an exchange of favours then, here is the French lesson for today: in French we say 'végétarien' and 'végétalien', respectively. I see both habits as very different. I understand that people don't feel like eating meat — or simply red meat, or meat only without problem in eating fish, or whatever. But when it comes to eating no eggs, no milk, hence no cheese, because they are produced by animals, I find it hard. That's turning into a religion, sort of. Good for them, but, seriously, not eating cheese? A French just cannot understand such a deviance!

    I acknowledge you raised a question of upmost importance concerning frogs. Yet legs are probably more than half a frog's weight. Also, why didn't you ask about what they do with all the shells we don't eat with the escargots, hmm? (What? being dishonest, moi?)


    Lynn — Thank you for the nice comment. I certainly agree that sight is part of gastronomy!

    A couple of years ago, after a travel to Chicago, I wrote a post about 'healthy eating' on a previous blog. It dealt with the topic of finishing one's plate, especially when plates are big. The blog doesn't exist any more, then I'll repost the post here as soon as I find it (I saved it somewhere, on another computer very likely, but I cannot find it right now). Briefly said, several scientific studies showed that it is automatic: the bigger the plate, the more you eat. The bigger the glass, the more you drink. If you buy a half-gallon pail full of popcorn at the movie theater, you are not eating half a pound of pop-corn only.

    Your article about Parisian women is very interesting. I fully agree, I'll write more about it as a comment on your blog.


    An update on what happens to the rest of the frog when only the legs are eaten: Patrick doesn't know! LOL. He said most of the restaurants receive only the legs that are sent by the factories that way, so he doesn't know what happens to the rest of the body. He said only the thighs have enough meat to be eaten so that's why they don't bother with the rest of the frog. (Poor frogs!)


    Lynn, so maybe there is a froggie rehab unit out there, after all?

    Billy, I never thought about the shells, but then, there are no organs in a shell. I step on snails and squash them when I find them in my vegetable garden (so long as I am not barefoot). Again, there is my inconsistency with kindness to living creatures. If they're cute I feel for them as living beings, and won't eat them. If they are snails, I destroy them without much thought at all.

    That report you mention on the size of the plate is interesting. The whole idea of 'upsizing' meals, drinks, etc, must surely account for at least some obesity. As must those awful, 'All you can eat for X dollars' places that are advertised. I don't know if they have then in France, but they are not uncommon here. I find the concept of paying money to gorge on as much food as you can eat, quite disgusting.


    I was just kidding, Michelle, what you say is fairly understandable. The closer the animals from us (mammals closer than fish, which are closer than insects or gasteropods, and so on), the harder it is to think about them being harmed.

    I am not aware of such 'eat everything you can' thngs in France, but it is almost the same when you have a buffet at a restaurant: people usually (me included) have a tendency to eat more than they would in a normal meal.


    Sorry for my poor english but the comments about the frogs made me laugh for a while!
    How can you imagine that we release the frogs alive in nature after removing their legs??...

    Check the constitution of a frog and you'll see that except the ultra-muscular legs, the animal barely doesn't have anymore meat to eat.
    And of course, fishers will first kill the animal by cutting its head, then remove its skin (like a pyjama (pyjama that we also call "grenouillere" in France, funny..) and finally cut and keep the legs.
    I used to fish a lot of frogs when I was young, but now the number of them has reduced leading the government to restrict its fishing, which is good to save the species.
    Now that I live in China for 6 years, a country where you can eat almost everything alive (which again is a pity for the endangered species), I have seen frogs on the table, and not only the legs, but to be franck, the rest of it is very small and far from being as tasty and good as the jumping muscles of the animal.
    Now, talking about what tastes good or not, sorry guys but I prefer to do it with Chinese or French, people who have a real culinary culture and do not open big eyes when you talk about fishing and cooking (which is not some kind of virtual thing..)


    By the way, I was not that fat in France but became really thin in China since I adopted the local Guangdong diet which is made of rice, soja and vegetables. Fish from time to time, very little meat (sometimes quite exotic though) and nothing sweet except the local sweet potato and fine black chocolate which is my only concession to the past..


    Dami, perhaps I wasn't explicit enough when I said that I (we) didn't know what happens to the rest of the frog. Of course, I meant that the rest of the frog was dead, but only the legs were shipped to restaurants. I had suggested that perhaps the rest of the body was used in making stock and then thrown away. As you and Patrick both said, there isn't enough meat on the rest of the frog and, therefore, only the legs are eaten.

    I can understand how you would get a good laugh out of that misunderstanding! LOL!!!


    Got it, sorry for my misunderstanding Lynn, I had readen it a little bit too fast!


    I suppose it had to do with being a second generation american, but my family always sat down to eat at the same time. We had to set the table, go wash our hands, pray, and then all eat. It was probably one of the most normal things we did amidst rampant dysfunction. *smiles* It all comes down to what one teaches their children. Being American isn't genetically passed down to our children. If I teach my sons that they eat dinner as a family, that is what will happen, and that is what they will hopefully happen with their generation. It is completely possible to change a whole generation to eat together if the parents would teach it to them today, while they are still children.


    Vanessa, you probably shared your experience as a child with many US Americans whose parents were immigrants, a couple of decades ago (Latinos and Italians especially). I wonder if many teach their own children as you do though. In fact, I doubt... Your sons are lucky.


    I am a Latina, and as a child we ate dinner together, but as we (my brothers and sisters) got into our teens, everyone had extra-curricular activities that it was almost impossible to find a time when we could all sit down and have dinner together.

    If we waited for everyone to get home we would have had to eat dinner around 9 p.m. or later. In Spain that's early, but in Pennsylvania it was considered late!


    Agreed, Lynn, yet it is probably a chicken and egg situation, don't you think? I mean, if US people were used to having dinner together, would dinner time that early in the USA ?


    Good question, Billy. It's true people in the States use the excuse that they have to get up really early, therefore, they eat early and go to bed early. That said, people have to get up early in other countries as well and that doesn't stop them from having dinner at a more reasonable hour of the evening.


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