While seated at the Le Meurice Hotel, suspended above the Tuileries gardens with a stellar view of Paris, guests may dine on a meal of white salmon, veal with truffles and cake.
NPR’s Eleanor Beardsley claims French obesity is on the rise, and notes that almost 14 percent of the French adult population is now obese, compared with 8 percent just 10 years ago.
Ironically, Dr. Jean Marc Catheline, an obesity specialist, says the French obsession with food is exactly what has protected them against obesity.
“The French know how to cook and prepare food,” he says. “French families have always known what’s good for them and what isn’t. We are also a country with strong rural traditions and great respect for food from the farm.”
But Catheline claims urbanization, immigration and globalization are moving France away from its eating traditions. Many young people are no longer interested in learning how to cook, he says, and the ritual of mealtimes is being forgotten. As a result, obesity is growing.
Catheline says obesity rates in France are higher in rural areas, where people drive everywhere. Obesity is also a more nagging problem among the poor.
“There are some places in France where obesity levels are as high as in the U.S., like in poor, immigrant communities. So as we watch U.S. rates rise, this is extremely worrying for us,” he says.
Lea Bresier, who spent a year teaching French in Virginia, told NPR there seemed to be no order or rules to eating in the U.S. — in other words, no designated time or place associated with eating meals.
“When I was in the U.S., everybody, they are eating all the time in the streets. They always have something in their hands, like Coke or sweet drinks, and they are always eating in their car,” Bresier says.
Beardsley describes this impromptu style of eating as “the un-French habit of eating anywhere”, and claims it’s catching on in France, especially with young people.
A French couple in their late 30′s, Pauline and Bertrand Dubois, who normally dine in the evening on meals like ham and a puree blended from fresh vegetables, worry American pop culture is changing French eating habits.
“We’re copying what we see on American television shows,” said Mr. Dubois in French. “Now we think we have to do things we never did before, like open our refrigerator as soon as we walk in our front door, no matter the time of day.”
Business Insider claims chain restaurants in France have captured 20 percent of the restaurant market, and one out of five euros spent in restaurants goes to chains and not independent restaurants.
And Business Insider notes it’s not just fast-food outlets that are doing well, like McDonald’s or Subway, sit-down chain restaurants have also expanded their market share. “For example, Hippopotamus, where you can get tough, tasteless steaks, opened 16 new franchises in 2010, and La Pataterie, which offers potato-based meals, opened 31″.
And chain restaurants are expanding. Business Insider notes that while the crisis of 2008 wreaked havoc on independent restaurants, what little growth there has been in the industry since then has been in the chain sector.
A similar situation has occurred in the U.S. According to the market research company NPD Group, there are 9,450 fewer restaurants in the U.S. than there were last year. Of those, 8,650 or 90 percent were independent restaurants, which took their steepest decline since NPD began keeping records.