Tuesday, December 15, 2009

French fight obesity with good food

The French are fighting their obesity epidemic...by teaching obesity patients how to cook.

Patients are told that it's okay to sit down to a three-course meal with family and friends, just not to snack and eat processed, packaged foods.

Although fighting obesity with good cooking may seem counterintuitive to some, I think they are approaching this problem very well. If you look at how obesity is spread out in America, you see that the areas with the worst problems are also the areas with the lowest incomes. Cheap food is the worst for us, but if you've grown up getting fed nothing but cheap food by your parents, you think that's all there is out there. (Cf. that poor Wal-Mart clerk who didn't know whether limes were a fruit or a vegetable...) If some of these poor malnourished people (and it is very possible to be obese and malnourished, as David Cross once pointed out) could learn to enjoy cooking and preparing great meals, they would spend more time thinking about, preparing, and savoring food, and less time eating mindlessly.

Now, you can argue that some people don't have enough money to cook well, but I think the idea that it takes a lot of money to have a cooking hobby is a flawed one. If you play your cards right you SAVE money by making your own food. I'm a poor college student and I often have next to nothing left of my paycheck after rent and electric bills, but I know how to go to Aldi, spend about twelve bucks and go away with more than I can carry, and get really good meals out of it. Most ingredients are not expensive, and many of those that are can be used sparingly or left out entirely. Anyone can cook! And I'm glad the French realize that.

Besides, anyone who's been to the Mediterranean can see that enjoying good home-cooked food doesn't make you fat...the Mallorquins were all rail thin, but my host parents overwhelmed me with food every night, and I didn't even have to endure their epic 2-hour 3-course lunches because I was in class. (Now, I DID gain a little weight in Mallorca, but I blame ensaimadas and chocolate a la taza for that!)

One thing, though -- if we follow this example in the US we have got to remember that Europe has something else we don't, which is public transit combined with a virtually big-box-free economy. Part of cooking dinner in Mallorca was walking to the market every day, getting your groceries, and walking back. You also walked from home to the metro (or bus stop), from the metro to work, work to the metro, the metro back home for lunch. Then back to the metro and back to work. And then back home for dinner. There's a lot more walking in everyday life. And I think trusting in public transit, plus trusting in our own two legs, could make all the difference for us...and our waistlines.

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