I did not realize it at the time, but my stay in France had a considerable impact on my view of lifestyle and nutrition. One personal value that I have developed during the past year is to be very mindful of the input that I take in. By input, I am referring to any stimulus, tangible or not, that can affect my existence, however minutely. It can be in the form of food, entertainment, social interaction – anything that influences the body, thoughts, or perceptions (so essentially anything and everything, haha). Consume positive input, be positively affected. Consume negative input, be negatively affected.
The first, and most tangible of these inputs that I will be discussing in relation to France is food. To preface my analysis of the French relationship to food, I will discuss the French word for it. The word for food is the long, three-syllable term nourriture. Who wants to say all that just to speak about simple, everyday food? Well, there is a shorter, more informal way to refer to food, but it turns out that food is so highly regarded in France that this slang term is considered vulgar! In American English, when I think of words that have vulgar counterparts, most often they are words that deface the meaning of a sensitive or even sacred aspect of life. So the fact that the French have deemed this word to be vulgar says much about the culture and its values. Food is not something to minimized, it sustains our lives. This was a lesson that I had to learn the hard way. I thought that the slang term was appropriate enough to use at dinner one night. I was swiftly corrected.
The French practice what they preach involving food. They set a wonderful example of treating food with respect and sustaining the body with quality food. I found it very interesting to observe how precise the meal schedule is to most people in France. It almost feels like a sacred ritual. Meals occur during specific windows of time each day. They are normally very complete in their nutrition. They consistently include the entire family for a period to relax and connect. Further, wasted food is unacceptable.
After all that I observed concerning meals in France, I was inclined to look more into the French diet once I returned home. Apparently, the French have much higher standards in regard to the production and mass distribution of food as well. They actively limit the use of preservatives and genetically modified ingredients. The wheat for bread is cultivated in a way that promotes absorption of nutrients. Could this explain why I felt so much better and more energized while in France? Perhaps. Perhaps I was just excited to be there. Either way, the lesson sticks with me today. If you provide your body with valuable nourishment, it will reward you in return with abundant energy and motivation to take on the day’s tasks. The brain feels clearer, and therefore, the brain and body can achieve more during the day.
Before going to France, I already had rather solid principles about maintaining a nutritious diet and avoiding wasting food. My host mother, Agnès, once commented on how I have a great appetite for vegetables and complete meals. But I had not yet started to appreciate the importance of setting aside dedicated time for each meal. My meals were irregular, and I would often multitask while eating to “feel efficient”. Certain mornings, my host father Pierre would see me on my phone at the breakfast table. He had the same reaction each time. “Non, il faut pas utiliser le portable à table!” (Translation: No, don’t use your phone at the table!). I did not see eye to eye with him at the time. I figured that I needed some time to check news, messages, and social media, so I may as well be efficient and do so while I eat!
I now see the period set aside for meals in a whole new light. An uninterrupted, focused morning meal supplied with the proper nutrition provides the time needed to prepare the mind for a day free of distraction. Similarly, an undisturbed dinner allows time to reflect on all of the experiences of the day – appreciating the good moments, and learning from the not so great.
It seems fitting to write so much about food as it is such a valued aspect of the mode de vie in France, but there are several other form of input that my time in France has made me closely examine. To be continued in the following blog…