French Women Don't Get Fat by Mireille Guiliano

For all my compulsions toward order and organization, there are some things that just don't make a dent in my care meter. Being on time is one of those. I know, I fully know, how rude it is to be late - really late - when someone is waiting on you. I never disregard the human element in my timeliness, and it usually means I am close to on-time. But, honestly, close-to-on-time is much more my norm than my exception. My husband considers being on-time equal to being late, so he likes to get somewhere early, but for me, sliding in a few minutes after the designated start time is fine. Thus, my late entry into the fun of Nonfiction November (#nonficnov) - hosted by Lu at Regular Rumination, Katie at Doing Dewey, Becca at I'm Lost in Books, and Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness. Thanks, ladies, for the fun idea.

I am currently reading Mireille Guilano's French Women Don't Get Fat: The Secret of Eating for Pleasure, and though it officially counts as nonfiction, I am beginning to question that status as my annoyance with the author grows. As the title indicates, Guilano - a native Frenchwoman - provides a model for healthy living based on how French women approach food. In many ways, I like this approach because it does reflect a greater appreciation for food than many Americans take. The problem is that she doesn't acknowledge that some Americans face extreme obstacles to "eating for pleasure" as the French do. She makes the astute observation that "America, the paragon of egalitarian values, somehow suffers from a gastronomic class system unknown in France. The right and the opportunity to enjoy the earth's seasonal best seems to be monopolized by an elite" (76). Her use of "somehow" and "seems to" points to an incredulity regarding this class system, when it is quite obvious: some people simply do not have access to or cannot afford the kinds of food choices she advocates for. Just a few sentences later, she expounds on this idea, but to her detriment:
But what seems like a luxury to Americans is a necessity to the French. Of course, not all luxury is within reach of everyone (the beluga appetizer is not a universal right), but the French do live by one principle that Americans sometimes forget, despite having coined it most eloquently: Garbage in, garbage out. The key to cooking, and therefore living well, is the best of ingredients.
Part of living like a French woman, then, will mean searching out and paying a bit more for quality, whether at the open-air market or at least a good grocery shop with market suppliers. This is now within the means of a great many more American women. French women live on budgets, too, but they also understand the value of quality over quantity.
Another issue, of course, is availability. And though the market in America has yet to become what it is in France, only a few are beyond the reach of quality on account of where people live. ...One must take the trouble to find them. And thanks to the Internet, many quality foods not in driving (or better, walking) distance are but a mouse click away. (77)
It is a ridiculously long passage to quote, so apologies, but friends, there is so much wrong in these paragraphs, and if I can't call it outright fiction, I at least want to question the nonfiction status of these words. Yes, some Americans (as well as probably some French people) choose junk despite plenty of education, income, and access to better options. Most people who eat junk regularly, however, have multi-layered reasons for doing so that have to do with what they lack: money, time, confidence, education, and access to these better choices. If you don't have a car, or a credit card, or a computer, these suggestions quickly become absurd.

As I write this, I realize this author is writing to a specific audience. She is demonstrating rhetorical awareness by understanding that the people who buy and read her book are likely to be upper middle class women who just want to think about being French for a few hundred pages. Perhaps they will actually take some good ideas from her suggestions and recipes - I haven't gotten to most of them yet. I am aware her target audience might respond well to this encouragement, so I shouldn't be so harsh.

I'm looking forward to seeing how the rest of this book turns out and maybe picking up something new before the month is out.


  1. I'm interested in hearing your final thoughts on this book, but it does sound quite problematic already. And don't worry about being "late" to Nonfiction November. The only way you could do that is to post in December... and even then I'd be excited to read your post!!

    1. You are so kind! I probably won't post a full follow-up on this one. I skimmed through the rest, and though there were some recipes that might have been interesting, they weren't anything I couldn't find elsewhere, so into the trade-in bag this one went. C'est la vie, n'est pas?

  2. Ugh that sounds really annoying - I would also be really frustrated with this book! Have you heard of the documentary A Place at the Table? It's a fantastic look at food issues in the US.

    1. Oooh.. I have not! I'll have to check that out. Thanks for the recommendation.