The French Diet: An Oxymoron

French Pastries

French Pastries

After spending a collective seven months in France over the past two years, I’ve come to the conclusion that health fads and diet trends are nearly nonexistent here.

I grew up in the Bay Area, the birthplace of the organic food movement in America and a haven for many of its contemporary advocates such as Michael Pollan and Alice Waters. I completed my undergraduate education at University of California Los Angeles, located in the center of image and health obsessed Beverly Hills, where juicing and Soul Cycle are considered the norm. You would think that Paris, a global city that considers itself the fashion capital of the world, teeming with models and celebrities and power players in the sphere of high society, would have developed its own set of according trends when it comes to diet and exercise. In the United States, we have seen waves of Continue reading

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The Other Fast Food: Kebabs

Doner Kebab

Typical Doner Kebab (Wikimedia Commons)

Before fast food, there was street food.

One of the most prolific street food items throughout the Middle East is the kebab, a flatbread sandwich filled with meat sliced from a rotating spit. If you’ve been to Europe since 1990 (and perhaps found yourself out at a late hour with one too many drinks in your system) you are probably familiar with the kebab, sold from tiny shops stuck in between electronics stores and Laundromats, displaying that golden tower of slowly rotating mystery meat prominently in the front window.

I have grown to love the Parisian Kebab, the majority of which are Turkish and come with a generous pile of frites stuffed into the center and smothered in a mayonnaise-based white sauce, modifications that have acted as a sort of “hybridization” to appeal to French customers. Like pizza and now the hamburger, kebabs have grown in popularity and shops have grown in number as globalization intensifies the flow of cultures, people, and objects throughout the world. But unlike pizza or hamburgers, both of which have Continue reading

The Angry French Farmer, a National Legacy

Protesting may well be France’s national sport. And of the many groups who excel (daily) in this endeavor, French farmers may just be the best.

Over the past few days, French farmers have taken to dumping tons of produce and piles of manure outside of government buildings and in public squares in protest of the Russian embargo on Western imports and economic downturn in the agricultural sector as a whole. This kind of agricultural protest is not new; the French Revolution itself was fueled by farmers fed up with high taxes and terrible living conditions. In fact, the French farmer protest seems to be a relative constant throughout history, which is not surprising considering Continue reading

Escargot: Save the Snails?

Traditional French preparation of escargot. Paris, France.

Traditional French preparation of escargot. Paris, France.

Again, I’ll ask: what is the absolute most French food you can think of?

If it’s not frog’s legs, then it’s got to be escargot. Another dish that confuses and even disturbs many Americans, snails are considered a traditional component of gastronomic history in France. But it’s not just the French – archaeological evidence suggests that snails have been on the menu in Mediterranean regions since prehistoric times. Other cultures eat snails as well – Spain, Italy, Greece, Portugal, and some Asian countries all include snails as a common (or at least socially acceptable) menu item. For whatever reason, though, snails have been Continue reading

Frogs’s Legs, a French Identity Crisis

Traditional French preparation of frogs' legs, served at Allard in Paris

Traditional French preparation of frogs’ legs, served at Allard in Paris

What is the absolute most French food you can think of?

…Chances are, frogs’ legs come to mind. In a sense, you would be right – of 160 million frogs reportedly consumed in Europe each year, exactly half of those are eaten in France. The French are undoubtedly the biggest fan of the tiny amphibian…so much so that they have driven their own frog populations to near extinction, and were forced to place a ban on frog hunting in 1980. In order to maintain high levels of frog leg consumption, France now must import its amphibians from Asian countries with thriving frog populations, namely Indonesia, the #1 exporter of frogs’ legs globally. So it seems that suddenly French frog legs’ are no longer French, Continue reading

Wild Mushroom Hunting, a French Pastime

Clockwise from the bunch that looks black: trompettes, girolles, cepe, pied de mouton, chanterelles, and pleurotes

A variety of wild mushrooms, purchased in Paris

Yet another one of France’s most sacred culinary traditions is wild mushroom picking. In fact, mushroom picking in France is a highly regulated and competitive endeavor, guided by laws and/or commonly accepted social norms.

Some mushroom-related laws:

  • Mushrooms belong to the owner of the land on which they grow (Article 547, French Civil Code)
  • If such land is public, a law passed in 1989 gives the prefecture power to regulate wild mushroom picking. This may include a per-person limit, certain days when picking is allowed, or a complete ban on mushroom picking due to environmental factors.
  • Mushrooms must meet specific size requirements to be picked, based on variety
  • The only tool allowed in mushroom picking is a knife, which must be used to cut the mushroom off from its roots in order to preserve them for growing future mushroom generations
  • Mushrooms collected must be carried in a wicker basket to allow spores to fall through and grow new mushrooms

Continue reading

The Truffle Tragedy

French Périgord truffles prepared on top of toasted bread slices

Traditional gastronomic presentation of French Périgord truffles

Another French product is in jeopardy – and this time, Americanization is not to blame. French truffles are in serious danger of being out-competed by cheap Chinese versions in an apparent “black market” truffle trade.

French truffles are among the most expensive foods in the world by weight. Going for around €500 per kilogram, black French truffles from the Périgord region in the Southwest, are considered one of the most luxurious symbols of high French cuisine and gastronomic heritage. Along with geographically benevolent vineyard soil, French truffles are considered one of France’s most prized natural culinary possessions. As such, they command an extremely high price. The financial benefits are attractive not only to French truffle growers, but to imitators, specifically those Continue reading