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Is The French Diet Still A Good Diet?

Mcdonald’s Bag by a Garbage Can, Nantes, March 2012

French are quick to make fun of the “Amer­i­can diet” and they like to claim how much health­ier they are com­pared to their Amer­i­can coun­ter­parts. A decade ago, José Bové, the farmer syn­di­cal­ist, was fight­ing against junk food (he famously sacked a McDonald’s fran­chise to make his point) and French would rather have some baguette with stinky cheese than a hamburger.

But the more I walk in Nantes, the more I won­der whether the French diet is still a good diet.

To be hon­est, tra­di­tional French food isn’t exactly light and easy to digest. From the fon­due (melted cheese eaten with bread) to blood sausage, from elab­o­rated sug­ary pas­tries to cooked pork meats, these regional dishes are best not eaten daily.

But these days, French (or at least peo­ple in Nantes) seem to love French fast food restau­rants too. For instance, there are shawarma joints at every street cor­ner and French hap­pily lunch on sea­soned meat cut­tings served in a baguette with French fries and gar­nished with a yogurt sauce. Amer­i­can fast food fran­chises, such as Sub­way, Mcdonald’s and KFC are as pop­u­lar as ever. And there are tons of fran­chised bak­eries, such as La mie câline and Paul, which offer greasy pizza and but­tery pas­tries on-the-go.

Sure, por­tions are less impres­sive than in the U.S. (where por­tions are still notice­ably big­ger than in Canada), and peo­ple do walk a lot. That prob­a­bly explain why French don’t seem to get fat.

Another thing I notice is that a lot of French can’t con­ceive any kind of meal with­out alco­hol. Cana­di­ans are addicted to Star­bucks, Sec­ond Cup or Tim Horton’s and a lot of them drink soda. Yet, I can’t remem­ber when I last saw some­one drink­ing alco­hol at noon in Canada (maybe I’m not around drinkers as well!). In France, drink­ing is sup­pos­edly cul­tural and that excuse alone seems to be a rea­son to indulge more than nec­es­sary. It feels strange to see peo­ple down­ing beer eat­ing Mcdonald’s (yes, Pulp Fic­tion didn’t lie—you can buy beer at Mcdonald’s!). Drink­ing in the street isn’t taboo (or ille­gal) like in Canada, and you can buy alco­hol just about anywhere.

I can under­stand why peo­ple seem to be favour­ing fast food options: food is expen­sive in France, and like in North Amer­ica, eat­ing healthy can be pricey and more dif­fi­cult. Peo­ple are in a hurry and may not have the tra­di­tional two-hour long French break at noon as they used to.

Yet it feels strange to see so much “junk food” in France!



  1. I’m sur­prised to hear there’s so much junk food in France, I always thought it was more of a North Amer­i­can thing. I know that I would pre­fer tasty French food over a card­board tast­ing ham­burger any day.

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