Food in France: The Revolt Against Fast Food
France is a nation of food lovers and the fast food culture contains some interesting facts.
Food is to be enjoyed and savored, for example, lunch time in France is usually two hours long just for this reason. Except for large cities, almost everything closes from noon until two pm when French restaurants are open for lunch.
When American-style fast food began to “invade” France in the late 1970s, it was deemed to be a passing fad, not able to catch on to sacrosanct traditions of leisurely French dining. How could a 20-minute hamburger & coke possibly supplant a 2-hour, 3-course lunch? Fast-forward thirty years: fast food has not gone away. It has proliferated. Surprisingly, even the French have changed and embraced sloppy food habits, falling victim in the process to some of the same ills Americans have once food becomes available 24/7.
Convenience and quality
The shift from traditional dining to fast food has also been attributed to improved quality and variety in convenience meals as well as tougher economic conditions (which have tightened consumer spending).
Paul Bocuse, the “pope” of French cooking, is among a growing number of chefs who have introduced fast food to his chain of restaurants which include the world-famous l’Auberge du Pont de Collonges in Lyon.
According to Yves Pinard, chef at Le Grand Louvre inside Paris’s Louvre museum, “The three key words in today’s restaurant business are: ‘quick’, ‘good’ and ‘not too expensive’.
On the other end of the fast-food spectrum, France is the world’s second-highest consumer of McDonalds. There are now 1,200 McDonalds franchises in France, with 30 restaurants opening per year in the past five years alone.
McDonalds has worked hard to cater to French dining culture and tastes, introducing meals such as the McCamembert burger and McBaguette, which have been a roaring success.
The creeping cost
While France has one of the ‘skinniest’ populations in the Western world, obesity has still doubled in the past 15 years to 15%. This takes the proportion of obese and overweight people in France to nearly half the population; 47 %.4 As a point of comparison, Australia’s overweight and obese population currently stands at 63 %. ?
The most marked increase in the past three years has been amongst 18-24 year olds where obesity levels have shot up by 35 %.4
But is fast food to blame for France’s growing obesity problem? Well, partly.
61% of French youths say they eat at least half the time in front of a screen, often skipping meals by eating throughout the day, a quarter “often” consume soda drinks at meal times and more than a third play no sport; all high risk factors for obesity.
Sociology-economic factors such as income, education and geography are also a major determinant of obesity in all age-groups of the population. Poorer people, particularly in the far North and East of France, are the most overweight. Women with poor education are almost three times more likely to be overweight than their more-educated counterparts and men, 1.6 times more likely.
French Tradition of Family Dining
The French press has written extensively about the rise of obesity amongst the usually-trim French, and has long railed that the strong French tradition of family dining and convivial meals has gradually dissipated in the face of “la malbouffe” (junk food). French fast food seems to be gaining popularity still. The stories in the press point to an increasing lack of food awareness in a nation that prides itself on its culinary traditions.
The most recent and serious attack has come from Xavier Denamur, a disenchanted French chef, owner of a classic brasserie in the trendy Marais district, who saw the lowering of the 19.6% sales tax on food to a mere 5.5% as a political move by then-president Nicolas Sarkozy to salvage votes from the extreme right. The result, Denamur felt, was a devaluing of the relatively high standards of food production in France. To make his point, Denamur teamed up with director Jacques Goldstein to produce a forceful documentary against the widespread harm of junk food; “La République de la Malbouffe” is roiling the French food establishment.