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Subject: Great "Amerian Paradox" article in NY Times magazine
From: Reinhard Engels
Date: Mon, 18 Oct 2004 08:08:52 -0700 (PDT)

Our National Eating Disorder

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Here are some highlights (see the last paragraph

"America's food industry, [is] more than happy to get
behind any new diet as long as it doesn't actually
involve eating less food."

"you might be interested to know that there are other
cultures that have been eating more or less the same
way for generations, and there are peoples who still
rely on archaic criteria like, oh, taste and tradition
to guide them in their eating decisions. You might
also be interested to know that some of the cultures
that set their culinary course by the lights of
pleasure and habit rather than nutritional science are
actually healthier than we are -- that is, suffer a
lower incidence of diet-related health troubles. The
''French paradox'' is the most famous such case,
though it's worth keeping in mind the French don't
regard the matter as a paradox at all; we Americans
resort to that word simply because the French
experience -- a population of wine-swilling cheese
eaters with lower rates of heart disease and obesity?!
-- confounds our orthodoxy about food. Maybe what we
should be talking about is an American paradox: that
is, a notably unhealthy people obsessed by the idea of
eating healthily."

"A few years ago, Paul Rozin, a University of
Pennsylvania psychologist, and Claude Fischler, a
French sociologist, began collaborating on a series of
cross-cultural surveys of food attitudes. They found
that of the four populations surveyed (the U.S.,
France, Flemish Belgium and Japan), Americans
associated food with health the most and pleasure the
least. Asked what comes to mind upon hearing the
phrase ''chocolate cake,'' Americans were more apt to
say ''guilt,'' while the French said ''celebration'';
''heavy cream'' elicited ''unhealthy'' from Americans,
''whipped'' from the French. The researchers found
that Americans worry more about food and derive less
pleasure from eating than people in any other nation
they surveyed."

"Compared with the French, we're much more likely to
choose foods for reasons of health, and yet the
French, more apt to choose on the basis of pleasure,
are the healthier (and thinner) people. How can this
possibly be?" 

"Perhaps because we take a more ''scientific'' (i.e.,
reductionist) view of food, Americans automatically
assume there must be some chemical component that
explains the difference between the French and
American experiences: it's something in the red wine,
perhaps, or the olive oil that's making them
healthier. But how we eat, and even how we feel about
eating, may in the end be just as important as what we
eat. The French eat all sorts of ''unhealthy'' foods,
but they do it according to a strict and stable set of
rules: they eat small portions and don't go back for
seconds; they don't snack; they seldom eat alone, and
communal meals are long, leisurely affairs. A
well-developed culture of eating, such as you find in
France or Italy, mediates the eater's relationship to
food, moderating consumption even as it prolongs and
deepens the pleasure of eating."


 © 2002-2005 Reinhard Engels, All Rights Reserved.