I don’t normally read diet books but Julia Reed’s recent NYTs Book Review of Mireille Guiliano’s French Women Don’t Get Fat enticed me. Has it come to this? Reducing French culture to a diet book?
Okay, public relations is good in whatever form (good PR for Veuve Cliquot, of course) and I have to admit I never dreamed I’d be learning so much about CHOCOLATE in a diet book with a very ample sprinkling of glasses of champagne.
There are many good things about Mireille Guiliano’s book, first and foremost that it’s published by AA Knopf with serious style and good paper. Probably the best three things you’ll remember from reading this ‘way of life’ not a diet is DRINK WATER, lots of it. And create equilibrium. Savor your food.
On the negative, there’s a lot of reinforcement of some cliches in particular, French Women Don’t Get Fat. They DO! They just don’t STAY fat. (Ms. Guiliano begins the book telling of her own experience gaining weight and then losing it).
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Obesity is currently a very big topic in France and there’s much concern as younger people are gaining weight just about as quickly as the fast food market has made major inroads not just in Paris but also in small towns. French kids are drinking Coke, Pepsi and soft drinks with as much zeal as their American counterparts.
Another myth: French women don’t drink hard liquor. That is most definitely a generalization which holds true – perhaps in Paris, but not necessarily in Normandy! In fact, I hate to break the news, but champagne was the second drink of choice at a party last summer. Bourbon and whisky are popular in Normandy and the some women in Normandy REALLY like their bourbon. At one farm, I’ve even been offered a cup of coffee with calvados at ten a.m. It’s hard to generalize about France just when you think you’ve got a handle on things, along comes someone to totally turn all your assumptions on end – Ms. Guiliano admits her generalizations are the ‘American’ in her. (Do we have the franchise on making generalizations? Thought that was universal.)
Another cliche – people don’t talk about dieting. It’s true, they don’t talk about dieting at cocktails, because that would be dull and there’s nothing worse than dull conversation at a party, but among close friends, a great deal of talk concerns healthy eating, reducing cholesterol, etc. Weight gain is considered an intimate issue, you don’t go on national talk shows.
All that being said, this is a lovely book to read, if only to get a little SLICE of French living viewed through the eyes of a woman who’s had the good fortune to live on both sides of the Atlantic and share some of her experiences growing up in the eastern part of France.