Guilt And Marshmallows

I have a new found respect for the French since last week. Their radio stations may be crap, but when it comes to a healthy respect for food and pleasure, they seem to have all the answers.

On our first night in France (before we arrived at the farmhouse) we stayed in a hotel that was quite plush. There was a bar area on which two very colorful jars of candy were situated – one with pastel green, pink and white marshmallows and the other with jelly bean-type sweets.

Here are the lovely fluffy marshmallows:

Not so strange. But, notice how next to the jar there was a little sign. This explained how marshmallows are actually good for digestion and can help to prevent inflammation of the mouth and throat. I kid you not. I felt another photo snap might be necessary as evidence.

I think this sheds some light on why the French seems to have fewer food issues than people living in Anglo-Saxon countries. Essentially, from what I can tell, the French don't really do guilt. And the marshmallow sign was a clear manifestation of this. They know that everyone feels like having something sweet every once in a while (even a marshmallow!), but they don't gnash their teeth over how 'bad' they've been and feel guilty. No, instead they justify it by creating some pseudo-scientific reason why it was actually good for them. Brilliant. (Not that I generally agree with pseudo science, but I'll make an exception here.)

Everywhere we went in France people were sitting around together eating and drinking. Although food is clearly very important and treasured it seemed secondary to whatever else they were talking about. They weren't sitting there mulling over what they should eat, should they be 'good' or 'bad' (this kind of food moralizing drives me nuts, click here to read my posting about food being the new religion). They just seemed to eat really naturally and moderately, without shying away from very high-fat food (just the opposite in fact).

It's not like they are all stick insects. They looked pretty normal – a variety of different body types – and more importantly, in my opinion, they seemed comfortable in their own skin. They were also very well-groomed no matter their size or shape, clearly taking much pride in their appearance.

As Lucy Wadham in her memoir The Secret Life of France writes, "Because there is no sin attached either to the pleasure of sex or the pleasure of food, overeating tends not to be a manifestation of self-loathing. Put simply, if your body is a temple for the pursuit of guilt-free sexual pleasures, you're less likely to want to trash it."

I couldn't have said it better myself. We Anglo-Saxons could learn something from the French. Marshmallow anyone?

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