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April 26, 2007


Amanda  Archibald

Building on Jean's notes about her observations in France, I'd like to further comment on some of the food experiences in France, observed during the Spring 2007 Exchange Forum.

Underlying the food experience and food choice "culture" in France is the notion that food and dining deserves respect. Respect is observed by taking time to eat and enjoy eating, separate from any other activity. Indeed, one of the principles governing the school meal program in Vertou (close to Nantes, and visited by the group on Friday), is that "meal time" is an opportunity for children to relax, to enjoy, and simply "to be." They are not distracted by anything other than themselves and a nurturing environment.

In addition to the idea of respect, the French also associate food (and wine) with pleasure. Indeed, during a wine tasting, the wine steward actually asked us what we associated with a bottle of wine. While many adjectives and ideas were suggested, none of us suggested "pleasure." Indeed, upon reflection, we agreed that wine should be associated with pleasure.

So principles surrounding food choice and dining affiliate respect and pleasure with nourishment. Beyond these ideas, at the Vertou school district, we observed that children would eat lunch in an environment that nourished, not only their bodies, but also their senses. The ideas that school lunch should be eaten in a room that is devoid of visual inspiration, was indeed foreign. Therefore, the dining room was attractively decorated and furnished. Children sat on chairs that could be adjusted to their age/height. The ceilings were fitted with accoustic tiles to reduce noise. Walls and other surfaces were decorated with attractive artwork. Napkins reflected children's artwork. Support staff engaged in encouraging children to try new foods. Their role: to nurture children during the meal.

In short, and time after time, we witnessed (and continue to witness), this intersection of respect for food, respect for each other, the pleasure of what we were eating, with a pleasure for those with whom we were eating. Meal times are an occasion to share, to nurture, to enjoy each other, and to indeed celebrate what food producers, artisans and culinary professionals can bring to the table.

I am a strong believer (as are so many other dedicated food professionals), that successful food and nutrition education programs should foster these same ideas of nurturing. Additionally, that inspirational food and dining environments together, with a respect for those who grow, produce and prepare foods are critical to the food and education experience. When we respect the producer, the environments that we eat in and the people with whom we eat, we will surely begin to afford food, food choice and dining the equal respect (and pleasure) that it deserves.


Thank you for this wonderful blog. After reading Kindy Peaslee's Today's Dietitian article, I followed the link to this site.

I'm an American dietitian who spends quite a bit of time in Paris, and will be moving there to reunite with my fiance. I completely agree that the reverence for food, and the pleasure taken in eating "real" food is one of the key things we Americans lack. For me personally, thinking of food as pleasure was a huge learning curve! I habitually rattle off the nutritional value of foods, but taking pure pleasure in the taste, smell, and texture was the most important 'lesson' I learned. Teaching kids to enjoy quality food is one of the key things we can do to promote good nutrition. Thank you for your blog and for being change agents at the time it's needed most.

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