The French have a new reason to hate us. We are making them fat. My son Jonathan got me interested in French Fat when he told me the story of a visitor from Paris, his girlfriend’s cousin, who, it turns out, doesn’t speak a lick of English. Slowly, after two weeks in Philly, she started to pick up a few words. Then, as she waited in line at an ice cream window, she was shocked into uttering her first English sentence in America: “They are fat.” It was her jaw-dropping observation of the clientele at a Baskin-Robbins on a Saturday night. Her first, full English sentence was followed quickly with her second, dripping with French incredulity. “Why they eat ice cream?”
Since I could lose a few pounds, and still have been known to eat a double scoop of Breyers on a Friday night …and Häagen-Dazs during the week … and Kohr Bros in Ocean City on the weekends … and Bredenbeck’s in Chestnut Hill when I’m out with the kids—oh, you get the point—little miss high on her French horse could have easily been talking about me. I needed to know what made the French so special, why there is a popular diet book called French Women Don’t Get Fat.
The book was written in 2004. In 2012, it’s time to update the title to French Women Are Now Getting Fat.
France has its own national campaign to fight obesity. And much like little Miss Frenchie in Philly, the entire country is pointing at overweight Americans as bad examples. Images of overweight children and adults in the United States are regularly seen on French TV news, and in public service announcements and print ads. “Obésité: la France sur la voie des Etats-Unis,” warned Le Monde in the headline over a 2006 article on the new “epidemic.” The magazine predicted “in 2020 the French will resemble today’s Americans.” The French are right on track to make that prediction come true. Nearly 18 percent of French adults are now obese, up 12 percent from a decade ago. By comparison, one in three American adults is considered obese, but we are holding steady.
All of this helps explains the disdain of the petulant Parisian for the extra-scoop crowd. The French believe that America is exporting obesity. France is becoming increasingly colonized by chain restaurants, from fast-food joints like Subway and McDonald’s to more upscale sit-down franchises like a steakhouse called Hippopotamus, which now make up 20 percent of the country’s restaurant sales. France is second only to the United States in consuming Big Macs and other McDonald’s fare.
The country has been way ahead of America in the battle of the national bulge. Aside from demonizing us as Super-Sized Satan, France has removed vending machines from schools, among other measures in a national obesity campaign. And the soda tax that Mayor Nutter failed to pass in Philadelphia is a national law in France. However, so far the law has done much more to help with austerity than obesity, raising $156 million in taxes as soda sales continue to climb.
It would seem France just wants to be fat, no matter what it costs. So save the attitude mademoiselle. It’s going to get you in trouble when Jonathan takes you to Geno’s or Pat’s. Take a cheesesteak or two back with you… les gens l’aimeront!