Monday, May 21, 2012

Noticing the Culture of Paris: Consumption

Being eco-friendly is important to the French from their toilet paper to their café menus.  Now you think I’m talking about the paper the makes the menu itself, but I’m not.  I’m talking about the food offered on the menu.  But let me start with toilet paper.  Toilet paper, cleaning products, hygiene products—all the things you can buy, use and then throw away, are and advertise themselves as being earth-healthy and safe.  I thought this meant they were ahead of the curve.  It turns out, yes, by a couple hundred years.  It’s not that France knows we need to save the earth and so they are creating earth-safe products—no.  This is the way the French have always lived, and earth-safe products just kind of make sense.

Let me tell you another detail.  I was having un chocolat with my landlady over two hours of conversation and she asked me about my living arrangements and how it was all working out for me.  So I told her all the great things and then mentioned the sauté man in my apartment.  “The sauté pan I’m having a difficult time with, I told her.  It has a waffle pattern on the bottom, I have no idea what kind of pan it is or what it’s used for.”  (I doubt if she’s seen the particular pan in question, and I’m sure a pan that would work better for me exists, but her choice of response was that her husband was very conscious of health risks and so rest-assured all the pots and pans were healthy to cook with.  “He doesn’t even like me painting my fingernails, he says, ‘That is TOXIC!  Why are you putting it on your body!?’” and she laughed.  This idea was so interesting to me I abandoned my plea for a legitimate sauté pan to follow it.  Apparently it’s his line of work in some way or another, though I wasn’t sure if she meant this literally or as a serious interest, “it’s what he does,” kind of thing.  Olivier is a through-and-through Parisian, she followed up with.  This is one example of a health conscious mindset that I am surprised by, not because it seems odd, but because for this woman at least, it was attached to being a Parisian.

I’m not going to even try to explain (for clarity’s sake: because I can’t) the obvious hypocrisy of cigarette smoking in Paris, especially among the young, but let’s go to food because if anything could offset the smoking, it’s eating.  Its not the way Parisians eat, but what they eat that’s particularly life-saving.

Q. How is it that French food is characterized by butter and they’re not all grossly fat?
A. Yes, it is.  But no, it’s not.  Also, yes it is, but it’s FRENCH butter, from FRENCH milk, from FRENCH cows.  It’s fresh.  It’s local—as in within France, if not the area surrounding Paris.  Regarding the “no, it’s not” of the statement above: It’s an ingredient.  And if they were eating 12 croissants a day like a tourist they might be fat, but given they eat consciously and sparingly, they are not fat.

A. The main ingredient of French cuisine is “fresh.”  I mentioned French butter from French milk from French cows.  Now pair that with French bread from French grains.  French in-season fruit.  French in-season vegetables.  French meat—fresh meat.  Most ingredients for cooking food in fromageries, boucharies, boulongeries were never frozen, they are never shipped from another country, let alone another continent.  They were most likely baked that day, or cut that day, or in the case of cheese, are portioned and categorized down to the day or hour you want that cheese to taste best.

Then the Parisians go on a run.

Healthy.  Absolutely nutrient-rich food.  There are certain markets in Paris (in France) where you do none of the selecting of food.  You go up to the vendor and you tell them what you’re eating and when, and THEY pick the perfect mango for tomorrow morning.  They’re in touch with their trade, and proud fo it.  I’m not sure if you can find this everywhere, but I know it can be found, and it’s a good rule of consumption: fresh, healthy, and perfectly timed.

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