Anyone who knows me knows that I love good food. I hate to say that I’m a foodie because there’s something that sounds so snobby about that. Good food in my mind doesn’t have to be fussy – but I do believe in fresh and seasonal ingredients that are grown responsibly, prepared thoughtfully, and shared with close friends or family.
I guess you could say I have a European sensibility in that regard. My favorite meals are multi-course, filled with color and variety, involve lots of wine (preferably from the Rhone), last for hours and involve lively conversations about world news, politics, travel, music and…well, food.
So it probably comes as no surprise that I love the French culture. I spent my junior of college year studying in Lyon, France. And Lyon is, arguably, the culinary capital of France. While much – OK, some – of my time over the year was spent studying, I learned to eat and appreciate food in ways I never had before. That experience forever re-shaped how I think about and eat food.
So when I saw a recent story in Time Magazine about school lunch programs in Paris, I was reminded of everything I love about France’s food culture. It’s no wonder why food is so central to their identity as a people – their “education” starts at the earliest of ages—even before, as the article states, they can lift a fork.
What makes the French school lunch programs so special, you ask? Here are some highlights:
- No single meal is repeated over the 32 school days in the period
- Every meal includes an hors d’oeuvre, salad, main course, cheese plate and dessert
- Kids are sent home with a brochure that carries the title “Suggestions for the evening” that changes daily to nutritionally round out what they’ve eaten at lunch time
- Most, if not all, key ingredients come from France
- Kids always sit down at a table and are encouraged to take their time eating
- Snack and soda machines are banned from school buildings
I’m a realist. We can all acknowledge that France has some serious tax dollars behind these programs that we don’t (that’s a whole other topic); however, it’s remarkable to me how simple yet critical the concepts behind this program are: ensure kids eat a wide variety of fresh foods throughout the day, take time to sit down and eat, and don’t provide easy access to junk and processed foods.
While the program itself may seem a bit regimented to many Americans, I think we can and should appreciate the statement it makes—that there is long-term value in investing in food (not just the food itself but also how, when and with whom it’s consumed), and its power to influence people’s overall health and well being. I get frustrated when people don’t see or want to see the simple brilliance in that.
But I have glimmers of hope that the tide is finally turning in America. I see people like Jamie Oliver try to stir up a food revolution, and frankly, I think that’s what it’s going to take to get people thinking about food in entirely new ways. While we may never have the kind of food culture that France does, I think if we can work together to create new relationships with our food, we’ll be well on our way to becoming not only a healthier but also happier America.