Three years ago I did something wild. I left my husband with our 2 year old and went to Paris alone for 10 days to visit a friend. At the time the trip represented so much to me, about my freedom, my autonomy, my relationship within my family, as a mom, a wife, and the ways I show up as a friend. The trip proved to me that anything is possible for myself and for my dreams. I had traveled before, the magic, for me, was not in the plane ticket or the distance, it was in the permission.
When in Paris, I ate a croissant every day, while making a lot of observations around the differences in our food cultures, here and there. Croissants, I was told, are normally reserved for Sundays--this made sense to me, a rule, a restriction, and even a ritual around a specific food. In America, we love our rules. We also love breaking them and the self loathing that comes with that practice.
There is a boulangerie in every neighborhood. Fresh breads, pastries, and cakes. On Sunday there is a line out the door. Trips to the bakery are not reserved for birthdays or special occasions, fresh baked goodness is daily standard. Le pain quotidien (the daily bread).
What struck me about this, was how permissible daily pastry was. Nobody seemed to be carrying guilt or shame from their weekly boulangerie visits. They did not appear to be counting carbohydrates, nor did they appear unhealthy. I started to think that perhaps it was permission that was bringing balance into the French food culture, and thought about how freeing that permission could be.
With my friends, over dinner one night, I raised the question of this idea of permission and the differences between the way we look at food and how the french do. Was it their permission that was giving the people of Paris the grace to eat bread, cheese, ham, and potatoes with most meals without developing an obesity epidemic? Was the lack of regret, over their were choices, allowing them to digest the food properly? Were they able to avoid feeling like ravenous carb junkies, and choose salads and balance with their next meal because of their mindset? Did it afford them the ease of eating with peace of mind?
I kept picturing American tourists eating their way through Paris with guilt, or at the very least the constant reminder that when they get home they will have to diet, cleanse, or punish themselves. If you listen really quietly you can hear it...
“omg, when we get home, no bread for a week”
“omg, I’m going to get so fat from this vacation.”
“omg, extra hours on the treadmill when I get home.”
My frenchy friend Jean, thought about what I was saying for a minute and then responded,I don’t think it is permission so much as it is, pleasure (sentiment best expressed with a french accent.)
There it is. The power is in the pleasure. And with pleasure there is no need for permission.
Our culture has zapped the pleasure out of our food (literally, microwaves are not a staple in french kitchens). We have packaged our food to eat in our cars. We have labeled our food down to it’s most insignificant parts. We have marketed our food products to change us, to save us, to entertain us. We have grown food that contains poisons, and created new foods out of genetically engineered organisms and chemicals.
Where in our food culture is the gentle perfection of a freshly grown sliced radish? We may be able to identify the radish, but do we deem it pleasurable?
It is no secret that we have lost our way. No amount of science, or counting, or calculating will get us back. However, I do believe pleasure has that power.
The image of a sliced radish speaks volumes to me, the idea of food in its simplest most pleasurable form. Spicy, sweet, crisp, with a dash of salt and pepper. Slowing down, taking the time to recognize the season, choosing foods intentionally for their color, their texture, and how they make us feel, this will be our path to pleasure. And in turn, our path to health and ease.
In Paris, I ate slower. I ate foods, I typically wouldn't. Many meals were prepared with white flour, and it was freeing to relax into my food choices despite them. I felt I digested foods that would typically make me feel yuck, with so much more ease. Relieved from fretting over my meals origin, because they protect their food sources from chemical manipulation. Relieved from stressing how the fresh nutrient rich foods were going to make me feel, I was able to simply enjoy.
In Paris I drank my café sitting. Every time, every cup. To-go coffee is not served in France, can you even imagine? There is an eery absence of paper coffee cups in their hands. Coffee, instead is served in a small cup and saucer, there is no venti or trenta.
In Paris I was reminded of soft boiled eggs and egg cups and dainty food. Pretty, delicate. The power of a small plate or silver spoon.
In Paris I drank wine with lunch. And didn’t get tired. Magic.
In Paris I ate zuchinni shaved thin and served cold, with sliced avocado, drizzled in balsamic. It was the absolute best.
For pleasures sake, we must do our best to step away from the bags, bottles, boxes, and cans. Choosing to eat slowly, on pretty plates, bringing the focus to the moment, who we are sharing it with, and what has been prepared for us. Choosing pleasure, we are able to eat our cheese and our cake too, fully trusting the process and our choices. We do not need to go to Paris to experience more pleasure in our foods, in fact it is a must that it starts in our homes.