A gastronome in California

Six months ago we arrived in America. What a change! I was afraid of not finding “good products”, I could not have been more wrong: California must be one of the regions in the world where one finds the most beautiful fruits, the most tasty vegetables. On the other hand, I realized how much gastronomy shapes my diet, and how much Americans could benefit from it.

What is specific in French eating habits?

In 2010, the “Gastronomic meal of the French” was inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO. It is described as an exceptional way of eating, to “celebrate important moments in the lives of individuals and groups, such as births, weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, achievements and reunions.” Yet UNESCO’s description almost seems to me to be that of my Sunday meals, or even every day if you eliminate alcohol: a starter, an entree, cheese and a dessert. Taking the time to savor the foods, which will have been carefully chosen and prepared, and taken together … Obviously it is not only my case: a French Institute has published two reports that show the particularities of “French” meals:

  • Diversity, from meals with 3 components
  • Regularity, with 3 to 4 meals a day, at fixed time
  • Commensality, ⅔ of the French eat their meals with other people.

Foody vs Gastronome

California is a region known for its interest in food, and the number of people I meet presenting themselves as “Foodies” is impressive. In practice, the “Foody” is not a “bon vivant”, which I thought at first. It is someone who loves to eat, but not necessarily to sit down around a table. I had never really paid attention to this peculiarity of our French culture, but it jumped at me here: the Anglo-Saxons in general, Californians included, see in the food a functional activity.

Boire un petit coup…

I had hoped that the wine culture would be a place of propaganda, wine being by definition a gastronomic drink. Error. There too, the surprise is great! Whether it is during a “private” tasting with the Silicon Valley gratin, or in the famous Napa Valley where we spent Christmas, the tasting of the wine is done on an empty stomach or almost. Having had the chance to taste the best of Burgundy at Clos Vougeot, with its 8 dishes chosen according to the wines, I expected a more holistic approach to the Bacchusian pleasures.

Here, wine lovers drink fasting and note the bottles blind, with some crackers to pass, before listening to the statistics of their “good” or “bad” tastes and eating a pizza on the go, having no idea of the possible existence of our songs to drink. The Wineries offer tours in their establishments, where one goes from one stand to another to taste the different wines, and at the end of the visit some small pieces of cheese will accompany the best bottles. No “petits fours”, no starter, main course, cheese or dessert. On the other hand, a knowledge of the grape varieties and blends that made me feel very ignorant of our wines, which according to my Sweetheart are sometimes even assembled differently from one year to another, depending on The weather, bacteria, the mood of the grapes and the age of the captain.

A table!

All this has obviously to do with Gastronomy. Oenology is to the pleasure of drinking what nutrition is to the pleasure of eating. An interesting science, which perhaps allows us to make better choices, but which does not replace a deep awareness of ones desires, tastes, needs in terms of pleasure, comfort or health, the importance of the context, the time spent there and the people with whom it is practiced. Yet, culture saves us from our eating instincts: in an environment of opulence, we naturally eat more than reason, we go to the most satisfying tastingly and calorically. With culture, this environment is “constrained” by our culinary techniques, our rhythms and our manners.

It is for this reason that gastronomy reconciles everyone: by taking the time to listen, the most scholars, the most sensitive, one can learn around a meal the science of the other, plans and expectations, tastes and colors. Commensality is dear to me, when at the same time we all meet at the table, whether in the canteen, the restaurant or in the kitchen, to celebrate the pleasure of being together. And it’s good for your health. A table 🙂

Références (CREDOC, in French)

La restauration collective au travail conforte le modèle alimentaire français

Plus forte diversité alimentaire en France qu’aux Etats-Unis

Comportement et consommations alimentaires en France

Le modèle alimentaire Français contribue à limiter le risque d’obésité


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