Jenny Craig is taking France! According to an article in this weekend’s New York Times magazine, the American export is gaining popularity in the land of cheese and wine, bringing pre-packaged, calorie-restricted meals to a country known for fine cuisine made of fresh food from local markets. Gee, thanks, America!
Nestle has been marketing the Jenny Craig weight loss program to the weight-conscious French for two years. While nowhere near the staggering 35% obesity rate here in the United States, France’s obesity rate has grown to 14.5% (currently), up from 8.5% in 1997, challenging stereotypes of the notoriously thin-but-well-fed French physique.
Americans have long had an obsession with the supposed sophistication of the French lifestyle…and weight. Mireille Guiliano‘s 2004 book, French Women Don’t Get Fat, ignited the obsession, and recent books like French Kids Eat Everything have only fueled the fire. The French seem to be better than us at everything: Eating, parenting, fashion, art and everything that’s cultured and cultivated.
Even Valerié Bignon, the head of Nestlé in France (who is, presumably, aware of the country’s growing obesity problems), had some harsh things to say for her part about American food culture:
The solution to America’s weight problem lies in what I call the French food model, a model that is very social, as opposed to the individualist approach of the Americans.
According to Bignon, self-serve lines in cafeterias could be making us fat; a glance at the differences in Jenny Craig’s French and American meal plans also reveals some potentially healthier habits we could glean from the French style of eating: Apparently, French people don’t snack. The French Jenny Craig meals only offer one optional cereal bar snack per day, as opposed to the three snacks per day in the American version. And in France, Jenny Craig’s packaged meals are, of course, inspired by French cuisine. Rather than mac and cheese, you get bouef borguignon.
Traditional dishes aside, Americans could probably take a few cues from the European way of eating. Less big-box grocery stores, more farmer’s markets; less fruit flown in from tropical countries, more locally-grown produce; fewer hastily microwaved frozen meals and more sit-down dinners featuring food that’s actually been cooked on a stove or in an oven. In fact, this is the kind of eating championed by notable American food-fluencers Michael Pollan and Alice Waters (who was directly influenced by her time spent living in France, of course). It’s supposedly more responsible, both for the environment and for your health.
But if French people are getting fat too, then there’s something amiss with the baguette-and-brioche diet plan. Namely, that the less-desirable parts of our own food culture are being disseminated over the world…and making people fat. We need to take a hard look at American attitudes towards eating; not just imagine ourselves losing weight by nibbling on good cheese in stylish outfits. Because our counterparts across the ocean are doing the same thing…except they’re imagining their newly thin bodies while eating plastic-covered meals inspired by the good old USA.