Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Alice Waters is right

I give (my fellow) American Francophiles a hard time. So often, a love of Frahnce manifests itself not only as a pretentious pronunciation of the country name, but also as a belief that food in France has magical properties. The intensity of the taste of the vegetables makes them so satisfying that you will lose weight and look like a younger and more natural Carla Bruni just by eating a salad.

After waking up at 4:30 and not getting back to sleep, I figured I might as well explore the local markets, which are supposed to open at 7. I just walked to one nearby, then on my way got distracted by another. Just... wow. It's winter, but the produce - some but not all local - just glows. The fish, cheese, meat, it all looks spectacular and, from what I've tasted of it, looks don't deceive. Compare this to the Tribeca Whole Foods, as yuppie a supermarket serving as yuppie-and-up a neighborhood as they come. Not a food desert by any means. And yet, nothing there is all that appetizing, not enough is as fresh as it should be, and the selection is grim. I would go with the most ambitious of cooking intentions, and end up making the kinds of meals I would from the Hyde Park Co-op - cooking without the help of good ingredients. If even Franprix, the grocery chain, can effortlessly outdo the best NY has to offer, what hope is there?

There is, I suppose, the Greenmarket. Which is great, if crowded and expensive, for the three months local food is in season, useless the rest of the year, no matter how many times food writers try to get us enthusiastic about root vegetables. (Buy a lovingly-grown turnip, by all means, but you'll still be getting the rest from a supermarket.)

So I'm on board, at least food-wise, with Frahnce. French Paradox-wise, not so much. Somehow I doubt that if I do lose weight here, it will have anything to do with the magic of the food. It will more likely be because the stench of drunken vomit creeps ever closer from the dorm bathroom area (and I am now going to sign up for the library earlier than planned, simply because I suspect there will be cleaner bathrooms there), or because I have yet to retrieve my mini-fridge from storage (any strong-upper-bodied Parisians reading this?), and so only eat bits at a time. I'm doing my best to avoid resembling a thin Parisian, though, having already, before it was even light out, had a breakfast flan.


PG said...

I wonder if the whole "you'll get thin in France" thing started with a shopping-and-f---ing novel by Judith Krantz called "Scruples." The heroine begins as fat and unloved, but goes to Paris and loses weight by eating like her French host mother, thereby attracting the attentions of aristocrats and billionaires. It's not bad as an example of the genre, and was a huge bestseller in the late 1970s and an early '80s TV miniseries.

I lose weight in Paris, but it's mostly due to walking so much (even more than in NYC) and not liking crusty bread, which seems to be the main carbohydrate. The last time I was there was at the end of a trip and I was short on money after two fancy meals, so I lived on tomatoes for a few days. They were very good tomatoes. Asia is putting on the pounds, though, because I love jasmine rice, which is cheap and everywhere, literally on my doorstep thanks to the Bangkok food carts.

Phoebe said...


I had no idea there was a beginning to the madness. Although Chez Panisse was, says Wikipedia, founded in 1971, which places Waters's epiphany earlier still. Although, much as they intersect, the French-food-as-diet, French-food-as-social-good, and French-food-as deliciousness causes aren't identical, and Waters, to my knowledge, is interested in the latter two.

I think for most people, the Paris weight loss is basically a city-vacation weight loss, nothing particular to France. Yes, the food is excellent - more so for those of us who do like the bread (a loaf of it will be the basis of my lunch and dinner every day until I retrieve the fridge or cave and get prepared food/eat in a restaurant) - but being out all day, walking, without the opportunity to grab something from the kitchen is enough to make a difference. My obsession with flan has prevented me from experiencing this even on short visits, but I suspect that living here longterm and with a kitchen, most Americans would find that they end up eating about the same as they would at home. Cooking if they normally cook, but it's not as though prepackaged or fast foods are unavailable.