Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Wholesomeness abroad

Germany, land of beer and sausages? Yes and no. Much like the U.S., there's this indulgence-asceticism dichotomy, one that doesn't exist in the parts of Europe one thinks of in the U.S. when "Europe" is invoked (i.e. France, maybe Italy). Perhaps because there's so much greasy meat to be had, there's a kind of detoxification parallel plane. The bread is intensely wholesome. If you're not spending your free time drinking yourself into a stupor with the other 15-year-olds, perhaps you should consider a triathlon. 


Swim-to-bike. (Having looked closely at the grass on this path, as one does when walking a dog, I might have urged amphibious footwear of some kind.)


-In Paris, health-food stores always feel a bit dated, like what we imagine Woody Allen's character had worked in in "Sleeper" before being frozen. Not Whole Foods-style indulgence. In Heidelberg, health food stores seem to be designed for someone whose stomach simply can't take anything but dry wholesome. It's all manner of grains, seeds, and fine, some organic prosecco for good measure. Wheatberries, smoked tofu, and international ingredients. The unifying theme to what they sell is that it's whatever you'll crave after one too many greasy Alsatian savory pancakes, too many one-euro cones of tiramisu ice cream.

-After much meat-potato-spätzle-beer, you might want to head to Heidelberg's vegetarian restaurant: Red - die grüne Küche (option+u, most useful here). It's an upscale buffet not unlike The City Bakery, but with much more choice, and a greater emphasis on the sensible. You will eat your vegetables. And it's good, although probably especially so if you're still recovering from the previous day's sauerbraten, and really, who isn't. (Word to the wise: käsespëtzle is not a dish that can survive "to go." What it becomes in the refrigerator is a solid block of whichever fat holds it all together.) The baked falafel somehow hit the spot, as did curry-flavored chickpeas, as did some kind of blended juice containing no alcohol whatsoever.

-France has its parapharmacies, where every product evokes some kind of quasi-medical trip to a really pleasant spa, where you'll drink a lot of wine and emerge a Birkin offspring. The German pharmacy or drugstore sells many of the same products as the French one, but the German products are designed to appeal to a woman who wouldn't be caught dead buying something so silly and vain as a wrinkle cream. There needs to be a medicalization angle, yes, but also a story about gardening. Here, the fantasy isn't relaxing after some shopping in the Marais, but rather keeping your skin healthy after some expedition that involved walking around with two sticks, a form of exercise one might expect to find only in mountains but that's most definitely done in town as well. 

4 comments:

Britta said...

I think I've commented on this before, but 'natural beauty' is if anything more valued in N. Europe than in France (and in Italy, afaict, it appears there's little attempt to hide the artifice, but doing it well is a prized skill), but natural beauty should be the result of a healthy outdoorsy lifestyle, not the result of remembering to moisturize 5x a day or age old beauty secrets passed down through generations. Also, being slim is highly valued, but again, it should just be a side effect of your great genes and 'healthy' lifestyle. You're so concerned about saving the rainforests/eating organic/running marathons that you just happen to have a perfectly toned body (not that you noticed until someone pointed it out, of course), but having a toned body as your ultimate goal is vain and borderline fascist.

There's also the issue that N. European food (speaking broadly) is, as you note, not the stuff of "this is why we don't get fat." Fatty meats and carbs eaten together in large quantities with some full-fat dairy and lots of alcohol thrown in are basically universally acknowledged to be terrible for you, but again, diet control through cigarettes and black coffee isn't as acceptable, and neither is sipping a glass of wine for alcohol/calorie control, unless you're consciously acting "European" (aka French/Italian). There was an attempt by Danish scientists to come up with a "Nordic diet" as an answer to the Mediterranean diet, in which reindeer meat, berries, fish, and rye flour were shown to be as healthy as olive oil, beans, and tomatoes etc. Of course, no one is living on reindeer meat and lingonberries, and somehow cream sauce and potatoes were not included.

Phoebe said...

I completely agree re: "natural," but I don't think there's much presumption that Germans don't get fat, or that there's any kind of beer-and-potatoes paradox. It seems much more like the States, in that the ideal is sturdy and athletic, not coffee-and-cigarettes emaciation. The whole European thing of it being celebrated to take up as little space as possible doesn't seem to extend to this country, at least not to even the poshest parts of Heidelberg. I don't know, then, who exactly is buying the anti-cellulite creams, but I guess if there's enough "Dr. So and So" and Alpine imagery on the packaging, one can convince one's self that this is a medical concern.

Britta said...

You're right that emaciated and tiny isn't the ideal (and the German idea of fat =/= French idea of fat), but tall, broad shouldered, trim and athletic is, and that is also not a physique easily maintained on a diet of beer, sausage, and potatoes (plus, if anecdotal evidence means anything, eating disorders are as common if not more so in N. Europe than in the US, pretty much all my female German friends have struggled with anorexia at some point or another).

The dislike of artifice does, I think, lead to more of an acceptance of the female form as is, in that a slender, athletic human body is considered attractive in its non-airbrushed form, unlike in the US. That is, body hair, breasts which conform to gravity, a very small amount of cellulite & body fat are more accepted, but certainly being overweight or obese is not considered attractive.

Phoebe said...

Huh. I would not have guessed there were many eating disorders here. I've seen exactly one obviously anorexic woman, at that vegetarian café unsurprisingly. But there are, of course, other, less visible eating disorders.

The main difference between Germany and France-etc. might be that in Germany - as in much of the U.S. - there's no serious expectation that a woman is going to be thin and beautiful into her old age.