Tuesday, May 31, 2011
In several of my articles, I have written about the wonders of the French Paradox. To sum it up, people eat a high fat diet, lots of pork, salt, and drink plenty of wine and other alcohol to wash it all down. Yet, as a whole they seem to be one of the healthiest countries in the world. Today I want to address what may be the most surprising secret to their success: that is, duck and goose fat.
Even though many people in France eat a lot of fatty foods, smoke cigarettes as if they were breathing air, and don't pay any attention to exercise (Paris is becoming an exception to the latter point), France has one of the lowest, if not the lowest risk for cardiovascular disease in the industrialized world. For example, according to a survey conducted by the World Health Organization's Multinational Monitoring of Trends and Determinants in Cardiovascular Disease (MONICA), on average 315 out of 100,000 middle aged men die every year in the United States from a heart attack. In France as a whole, approximately 145 out of 100,000 middle age men die from the same cause each year.
In the Gascogne region of France, there was a puzzling find. Though this region eats more saturated fat than any other group of people in the industrialized world, only 80 out of 100,000 middle aged men die from a heart attack each year. What is their secret?
Apparently, it is duck and goose fat.
These two fats are used for cooking nearly everything. While best known in France for adding scrumptious flavor to sautéed potatoes, the Gascons use duck and goose fat with nearly everything they prepare. Where one in Italy, Spain, or Provence might use olive oil, the Gascons use duck or goose fat. While in Brittany one might put salted butter on their bread, the Gascons use goose fat as a spread.
What is it that makes duck and goose fat so healthy? Apparently it is a result of the kinds of fats that make up its composition. Duck and goose fat are low in saturated (bad) fats, and very high in unsaturated fats. Saturated fats are solid at room temperature, and can clog up arteries in the human body. Unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature, and go through the system much easier. Duck and goose fat are actually closer in composition to vegetable oils like olive and grape seed oil than they are to butter or lard. This is a reason that duck and goose fat need to be kept refrigerated, as it becomes liquid at a fairly low temperature (14° C, or 57.2° F).
Duck and goose fat are pretty easy to find in France, though I would say that duck fat is less expensive and more prevalent, at least here in Paris. One can buy duck fat in a jar, in a refrigerated section of almost any grocery store. It is pretty cheap (2-3 euros), and it can potentially last for years (though once you get in the habit of cooking with it, it is likely that you'll run out of it in a couple of months at most). It adds the taste of duck or goose to a simple meal, so its a cheap and healthy way to add a lot of flavor to your dishes.
This is just another mystery solved in how the French Paradox lives up to its name. Go get some duck fat and start living a healthier, and tastier life.
If you are traveling to Paris and looking to see (and eat) what French people really eat, in addition to walking around some of Paris' best neighborhoods, take a look into my tours at culinarytoursofparis.com.
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Tuesday, May 24, 2011
Is there a time of year when your legs seem to be heavier than normal? Are there days where you feel like you have weights tied to your legs? You might be suffering from Heavy Leg Syndrome, one of France's most peculiar maladies.
Heavy Leg Syndrome, from a non French perspective, is just a hypochondriac's term for "my legs are tired," but it seems to be a troublesome widespread epidemic that is mainly confined to mainland France.
Last night when I was watching the news, a commercial came on promoting a cream for the treatment of Heavy Leg Syndrome. I hadn't thought about this in a while, as I guess it's not the Heavy Leg time of year. I went on to google and typed in "crème jambes lourdes" just to see what might come up. The amount of cremes that treat this "illness" is nothing short of astonishing. The claim is that if your legs are feeling tired or a little heavy that rubbing these special cremes into your legs will provide instant relief for the suffering caused by this debilitating malady.
Now why is it that people feel the need to see a doctor just because their legs are sore? The French do have great health care here, and as it is quite inexpensive (at least in comparison to the United States), people head to the doctor anytime they happen to fart or cough a little more in the course of a day. And referencing an interview given in a great article on the subject of French hypochondria, to which you can find the link here, French doctors don't feel right unless they prescribe something to treat you. Anything less than a written prescription implies that the doctor doesn't care and is not doing his job correctly.
As a result, medications are over-prescribed, perhaps more so than anywhere else worldwide. According to a French consumer's organization UFC Que Choisir, France prescribes 40% more medication than most other countries in Europe. The French Health Ministry even came to the conclusion that 40% of it's medications are useless (The Economist, The Price of Popping Pills, 13 May 2004). The only purpose of these placebos is to give relief to patients that expect a medication to cure whatever illness they may or may not have.
So, perhaps these cremes and other holistic heavy leg treatments (such as walking in the sea and drinking copious amounts of herbal tea) are a product of the desire to sooth those sufferers who were tired of coming away from their doctor's appointment without a solution for their heavy legs. However, until someone scientifically proves that Heavy Leg Syndrome is little more than having tired legs, then I guess gravity will continue to pull a little bit harder underneath mainland France, much to the chagrin of its suffering populace.
Monday, May 16, 2011
C'est comme ça.
There is no other phrase, word, or expression in the French language that irritates me more than this one. The literal translation would be "It's like that," similar to our expression in English "That's the way it is." English speakers certainly use this phrase a lot, but seemingly nowhere near as much its French equivalent is used.
In the United States, we being the eternal optimists that we are, always try to look at the brighter side of things. When someone loses their job, one could be consoled by being told that they now have the freedom to find their true calling. Someone might tell this person that they are sure that they will find a new job. Or, at the very least, one could say that they are sorry to hear about the news, and give them a pat on the back.
Not so much in France. One is likely to say c'est comme ça and then rant about how France flat out sucks.
Heatwave in France? C'est comme ça.
Girlfriend run off with pizza delivery guy? C'est comme ça.
Car run over your foot? C'est comme ça.
A few weeks back, there was an article in the Economist that discusses how France has lots of reasons to be happy. It is becoming increasingly easier to set up a business here (I can attest to this). If you have a good idea, there are fewer barriers to get your idea off the ground than in the past. Not to mention, France has a high quality of life, beautiful landscapes, amazing food and wine, lots of time off from work...
Yet, when asked if they felt if 2011 would be better than 2010, only 15% of French people said yes. This survey was conducted in several countries, and according to these results, France is the most pessimistic about the future. By comparison, Afghanistan and Iraq are close to four times more optimistic about 2011 than the French. The Americans, who have had hard times and are becoming increasingly more pessimistic about the economic recovery, had around 45% of those surveyed say yes, that this year will be better than the previous year.
Why are the French so down about their chances? There was a quote that stuck with me from a book written by James Baldwin titled Giovanni's Room. In this novel, the main character, who is American, falls for an Italian bartender, and both have been living in Paris for several years. The main character mentions something to cheer up the Italian, who responds with something like, "Oh you Americans. Your country hasn't been around long enough for you guys to be pessimistic." Perhaps this holds true in Europe, as according to the above-mentioned survey, most of the old European powers are not terribly optimistic about their future, though they are not nearly as pessimistic as the French. However, China has been around a long time as well, and they are very optimistic about things to come.
When I was setting up my business last year, I had a meeting with someone from the state to explain the creation of my company. The lady I met with took a quick look at my resume as I explained to her that I would be giving eating and walking tours in Paris. She saw that I have a Master's Degree in Political Economy and Public Policy, and as a result, she commented, somewhat jokingly, that my new job had very little to do with what I studied. I went to tell her that in the U.S., things like this are possible. You work as a banker, but have always dreamed of opening a restaurant? You certainly can do that in the United States. If one has a dream, one can see it through.
The lady conducting the interview said that it's amazing how Americans can think like that. She said it is just not possible in France. There are too many restrictions, and mainly, people are taught when they are young that if they are satisfied with their occupation, chances are it was an accident. I told her that I beg to differ, that if she didn't like what she was doing, that she could find a way out, and that maybe she too could find the calling of her dreams. However, she seemed hesitantly resided to her fate, and uttered that over-utilized phrase to end all discussion-
C'est comme ça.
Tuesday, May 10, 2011
In the last installment of this subject, I will discuss how France has come to deal with its actions towards the Jewish during World War II, and whether or not anti-semitism is prevalent in France today.
France was in an interesting position following World War II, at least in comparison to their German neighbors. The German role in World War II was pretty clear, which seems to have led to a more clear understanding of their mistakes and has allowed them to educate their populace with the hope that they can avoid making similar mistakes in the future.
The French role is not as obvious. While they were at war against Germany and worked towards their defeat, they also complied with the Nazi government and assisted in achieving the goals of the Third Reich in France. In the summer of 1944, the French military (thanks to the assistance of several other countries) felt safe enough to band together to fight against their invaders and declare victory. In an effort to cleanse their population of collaborators, many were sent to their deaths for their roles in complying with the Vichy Government and the SS. As a result, the French activity during the war is remembered differently, depending on who one asks.
The average American has the impression that the French did not fight back against the Nazis and it was the Americans, with help from other Allied troops, who saved the French following the invasion in Normandy. The French did fight, albeit they were poorly organized when the Nazis pushed through the Ardennes Forest in 1940. Many did fight with the French resistance throughout the war. It is true that the Allied forces did strike the death blow that led to the surrender of the Nazis in France, though the French did their part to help as well.
The impression is slightly different in France. Until recently, French film and other media related to the war, at least in my opinion, gave the impression that France was conquered by a superior army, and were brutally oppressed until the French, with allied help, rose up triumphantly and banished the German forces. The parts included in this impression are accurate, although there a quite a few details, in particular in relation to the Vichy Government and their treatment of the Jews in France, that had for a long time been overlooked.
Until very recently, the French government denied any responsibility for the actions of the Vichy Government, as they claimed that they had nothing to do with the choices of Philippe Pétain and his supporters. This seemed to be something that has been widespread in France- in retrospect the actions of the Vichy Government were horrendous and inexcusable, and although the Vichy Government received widespread support in France during a large part of World War II, everyone seems to point their finger and say that they had nothing to do with those guys. It is almost as if the Vichy Government was seen as an invading body as well- they crossed the border and took power in France, and as soon as they were defeated, they packed up their things and returned to their native land.
In 1995, Jacques Chirac , on the anniversary of the round-up at the Vélodrome d'Hiver, blasted the French government as well as the French people for ignoring the entirety of their role for so long. In sum, he declared that the French needed to own up to their past, and accept that France "delivered those it protected to its executioners." Though much had been made of their heroics during World War II, little had been discussed regarding French complicity in World War II in sending thousands of Jews to their death.
In 2010, the deportation of the Jews by the French suddenly received unprecedented attention. Last year, two of the top grossing films in France focused on the round-up at the Vél d'Hiv. The first, "La Rafle" is a French film that focuses on the round-up and deportation of several Jewish families in Montmartre during the war. From what I heard, this was the top grossing film in France last year and many were saying that it would be used in schools so that French students would learn more about the complicated role that the French played during the war. This story uses real names and was based on interviews with several of the characters featured in this film.
A second film, "Elle s'appelait Sarah" based on a very popular book (known as Sarah's Key in English) focused on the story of a reporter tracking down the story of a Jewish girl who apparently survived the round-up in 1942, and the connection of her husband's family to this girl. The story itself is fictional, but the events regarding the round-up are true. As the film was shot in French and English, I believe that it should now be available in English speaking countries (of the two films I mentioned, I thought this was the better one). As a result of the recent attention, the French (and the rest of the world) have the opportunity to become better informed on the complicated situation in France in World War II.
The last issue that I need to address is regarding anti-Semitism in France today. Does it still prevail today? My answer would be not necessarily, though there were many who were furious with Israel regarding their attack on a ship headed for Gaza in 2009 to provide aid. Protests were huge and quite angry in the Arab neighborhoods of Paris, and did lead to some violence against Jews in Paris, or at least some strong words. However, general anti-Semitism is not a common site in today's Paris. The Marais, home of much of the city's Jewish population, is a thriving quarter that is considered by many to be the most desirable place to live in all of Paris. It is a neighborhood popular with tourists as well, as it is filled with good delis, as well as the most popular falafel stands in Paris. Furthermore and most importantly, it gives people an inside look at a thriving Jewish community that is very proud of its identity and their traditions.
Thank you for reading, and as always, if you have comments, let me know!
Monday, May 2, 2011
In the second section of my three part article on anti-Semitism in Paris, I will focus on the attitude towards the Jews in Paris and their subsequent treatment during World War II. Obviously, this article could be long enough to fill a book, so I will try my best to keep this brief enough that it could be read in a single sitting.
The memories of the First World War had left the French military and government indecisive in the face of the Nazi threat; the government collapsed several times leading up the war, though most times the governments consisted of the same people, just their positions had been reshuffled. Though the French did offer resistance when the SS made their way through the Ardennes forest in the late spring of 1940, they were caught off guard, and stubbornness as to how a battle was supposed to be fought cost them dearly. The French did not expect the Nazis to come through the Ardennes forest, so they actually moved the barriers that they had blocking the way so to focus their attention elsewhere on the French/Belgian border. In addition, as the SS were making their way through, the French sent planes over the enemy lines to observe the incoming threat, yet they were told not to fire upon them, as according to the commanding French officer at this time, planes were to used for gathering intelligence, rather than attacking. Within a few weeks, to the surprise and horror of many, Paris had been captured.
Many in Paris fled, by some accounts, more than 50% of the city. Then they realized that the Nazis were in the countryside as well, so they might as well return to where they at least had a place to live. Many fought bravely against the Nazis as well. The French resistance needed to keep themselves underground throughout the war so that they could operate without interference from the French war time government (which I will get to in a moment). However, this article will focus more on those that welcomed the new overlords and submitted willingly to their doctrine.
To help distribute pro-facist and anti-Semite propaganda, several newspapers were created, including a couple that were becoming widely read even before the Nazis made their way into Paris. Je Suis Partout (I Am Everywhere) was first published and 1930 and from 1936 on, they championed the Nazis and Adolf Hitler. Though briefly banned in 1940 by the French government, it grew in popularity upon the arrival of the Germans, and eventually had a circulation of 300,000 issues. Several others, including L'Humanité and Au Pilori (On the Pillory) applauded French citizens who made friends with the SS soldiers and declared that all Jews should be arrested and deported, without hesitation.
Perhaps the most famous example of collaboration in France would be the French government itself. Maréchal Philippe Pétain, a former WWI hero, became the head of the Vichy government, based in Vichy (in Auvergne) because of its reliable electricity, and being a resort town, a city with plenty of hotels. Though he claimed that the goal of the Vichy government was to protect the French from destruction, they willingly worked with the Nazi Party, and followed through with their desire to assist in eradicating the Jews in France.
On July 16, 1942, 13,152 people (almost entirely Jews) were rounded up in the middle of the night and taken either directly to an internment camp at Drancy, a northern suburb of Paris or to a former bicycle racing track known as the Vélodrôme d'Hiver, or Vél d'Hiv for short, which was located a couple of blocks away from the Eiffel Tower. For five days the captives were kept with little food or water in a stifling hot building during an especially warm time of year. Many killed themselves by jumping off of the upper deck of the seating area. Very little medical attention was provided. From here, the Jews were sent to internment camps close to Paris, and from there, Auschwitz.
While this action was promoted by the Nazis, it was not them who followed through on the deed. This was done by the Parisian police in cooperation with the Vichy government. The Nazis originally requested that only the male heads of families be captured, however a senior French official argued that one day the children would become adult Jews as well, so they should capture them as well. Whole families were arrested, and many were separated to never see their loved ones again.
With the liberation of Paris, the collaborators were naturally treated very severely, as many were beaten, jailed, and executed. However, it could do little to erase the memory that many in France had willingly submitted their wills and energy to the Nazi cause.
In my last article in this three part series, I will try to give a brief rundown on anti-Semitism in Paris following World War II, up to the present day. In particular, I will focus on how the French have accepted their role in complying with the Nazi party, including how French collaboration during WWII has become an increasingly popular subject in film and literature in France.
This is a very short article written on a very complex subject, so I appreciate the understanding as I had to skip over a lot of detail for the sake of brevity, and yet still give an accurate picture of the situation faced by the Jews in Paris during World War II. Thanks for reading, and as always, if you have any questions or comments, don't hesitate to let me know!