October 26, 2012

French Food.

One afternoon last weekend I took Colette down to the kitchen for a squished food sampling. Her papa soon tromped down the stairs to find us a little messy with food smattered about. He looked at the clock on the wall and looked at me quizzically, "What are you doing?" I replied that I was letting Colette try out some different things. "At this hour?" (it was 4pm). "Well, technically, it is the hour of the goûter," I countered (trying to fend off an already well-known argument that I did not realize would apply to babies too). "It is not a meal time," he insisted.

So fascinating. Food will always be cultural embroilment between us. I was baffled that a baby of 7 months would be held to a meal schedule. And he was totally flustered by my disregard for a clock and set rhythm for eating. I am of the persuasion that Colette should decide when she is hungry and should be fed whenever that may be. He believes that we set eating patterns for children very early on and one of the biggest reasons that Americans are obese is because they eat indiscriminately between meals.

To be fair, we have moved toward each other on the food conversation. I have readily agreed that Americans snack far too much. I've also looked at French eating culture and admire the type of foods they consume - the fresh produce that is sought out at the market for meals on a daily basis. I admire the way a table is a place to eat and never a desk or the street or the subway. (While Xavier's dad was recently visiting, he had finished eating his hamburger and fries and had a bit of Coke left to drink. Xavier suggested getting up to look in a shop nearby and his dad looked confused and said that he hadn't yet finished his drink. The French are serious about sitting to consume. You do not see people walking the streets of Paris with coffee in their hands).

For Xavier's part, he has agreed that allowing babies and children to use their fingers when eating as a means of exploration and control over their food is a great idea. Many French kids never touch their food except through the metal silverware they eventually handle. Up to that point, someone else spoons the puree into their mouths.

We've also come to agree that a child should decide how much she eats - that the table should not be a war zone and when you as a parent start dictating portions, there will inevitably be push back and bad patterns around eating.

Breastfeeding has been another interesting cultural exchange. As you can imagine, many of our friends on both sides of the Atlantic are having babies. Not one of Xavier's friends in France is breastfeeding her baby longer than three months (most of them not at all). Many of my American friends have chosen to breastfeed for at least 6 or, more often, 12 months. When you ride in a cab these days in New York City, taxi television features a new public health campaign that encourages breastfeeding (and even "locking up formula" in hospitals). At work, there is the designated room for me to pump during the day (a legal requirement in NY).

France is a different place than, say, Norway where 98% of women breastfeed. In France, a recent article in Le Monde sites that only 35% of women are breastfeeding by one month after the birth of a baby (France also has one of the highest rates of women in the workforce in Europe). Xavier (and other of his country-people) couldn't believe that I was going to pump my milk for Colette after returning to work, while for many of my co-workers and other American women, this is commonplace.

These conversations are loaded. Anthropologists all over the place have already made this point, but culture is divulged most noticeably in its smallest beings - and not just those little people innately, but their parents - the way certain things get insisted on and prioritized. It is amusing to co-parent with a strong Frenchman, to hear him bemoan some of my fundamental preferences for Colette, when I feel like they are just so "natural."
(Not fundamental but amusing: the teething biscuits Xavier had never seen before for human babies and have since been labeled as dog biscuits and banned).


Anne said...

Xavier should have more faith in you. After all, you are her mother, not some random obese American. From what we've seen of you and your upbringing, it looks like your parents had a balanced approach to food and exercise.

Julie said...

Emilie - tell X that teething biscuits, as dog-like as they might be, are less offensive than the teething tool recommended to us at an Indiana laundry mat. An older woman told us that frozen hot dogs were the best teething tool (and also the number one choking hazard incidentally). I think that might be the source of American obesity and we have a state with the ranking to prove it . . .

Maria Petrova said...

Fascinating... Can't wait to see you & talk about all this! xo

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