In yesterday’s post on French cooking guru Julia Child, ML Awanohara wrote about the Slow Food movement, which began life in the 1980s in resistance against big international interests and, more specifically, the opening of a McDonald’s near the Spanish Steps in Rome.
Today, on its website, Slow Food states it aims to
counter the rise of fast food and fast life, the disappearance of local food traditions and people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes and how our food choices affect the rest of the world.
Valid and valiant aims in an eco-conscious world that nevertheless marches toward global homogenization.
Slow and steady? Or just slow?
Yesterday, ML also expressed her bemusement that the movement started in Italy, not France — a reaction I share with her, because if one traditional cuisine takes le gateau when it comes to drawn-out toiling over a hot stove, it’s the French.
Learning the nuances of French cooking isn’t something I’ve ever yearned to do. While I am full of admiration for Julie Powell and her quest to conquer all 524 recipes in Julia Child’s tome of French cooking, I have no desire to repeat the exercise myself.
Well, perhaps that is no more you would expect of me. I am British, after all — Brits aren’t famed for their good food, although of course I feel this reputation is undeserved — and I have lived much of my life in America, home of fast foods such as Burger King and McDonald’s.
Do I exist on cheeseburgers and fries, though? Absolutely not. Rarely, in fact. I cook most things, from traditional English cakes and roast dinners to an authentic variety of Indian, Chinese, and Thai dishes. When it comes to French cuisine, though, my repertoire is limited to creme brulee and cherry clafoutis.
My reason? I’m not prepared to spend vast swathes of my evening preparing an eighteen-ingredient, three-page recipe when I can get an enthusiastic reception from my family by cooking a Ken Hom stir fry in one-third of the time.
But no matter the nationality of food I cook, it’s rare that our family does not sit down together in the dining room and eat together. The way I see it, rather less time spent in the kitchen means more time eating and conversing as a family.
Could it be that French cuisine has shot itself in the foot with its complicated nature?
Winning by a hare’s breadbun?
In his 2008 article in The Times, Hugo Rifkind describes McDonald’s as
“France’s dirty secret.”
Three years ago, Paris had around 70 McDonald’s — or McDoh’s, as they’re known there — which is the same number as in London, in a city with a third of London’s population.
Stop any Frenchman on the street…and he will shrug and snarl and say that he doesn’t eat in McDonald’s.
But someone does, and it can’t be just the tourists.
Evidence suggests that the image of the French businessman taking a two-hour, multi-course lunch is gradually being consigned to the past, and instead of lingering over a bottle of fine red and runny camembert, Monsieur is adopting the regrettable Anglo-American habit of lunch on the hop.
One oft-quoted statistic is that the length of the average French meal has fallen from 1 hour 22 minutes in 1978 to a mere 38 minutes today.
A sad statistic indeed.
While McDonald’s is trying to cater to the French palate by introducing the McBaguette and the Croque McDo, I feel this is missing the point.
Food is not just about fueling the body.
It is about taking time out of your day to enjoy time and conversation with friends. It should be about savoring the taste of good flavors, not about stuffing a sandwich down your gullet as fast as possible so you can make that meeting at one o’clock.
In Aesop’s fable, the tortoise eventually won the race.
In this race, I hope the Snail does.
STAY TUNED for Wednesday’s guest post by a serial expat who has recently moved to Provence.
When a Julia Child-like curiosity about French cuisine leads to a displaced life — bienvenue au October theme
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