The Luncheon Society/”French Women Don’t Get Fat” author Mireille Guiliano/SF-Palio D’Asti/May 7, 2010

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Not every topic discussed by The Luncheon Society ™  needs to be weighty; in fact many of our best gatherings surround unexpected delights.

For example last year, writer Ayelet Waldman joined for a conversation after her column  in the New York Times set off a firestorm because she loved her husband more than her children. A year or two earlier, Bob Hass, the former American Poet Laureate spoke about his new set of poems, Time and Materials, which would win the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize.

Mireille Guiliano took a backhand comment and created several New York Times best-sellers. Years ago when asked how she could dine out nightly without putting on any weight, she simply replied, “Well, French Women do not get fat.”

With that staircase rejoinder, a literary franchise was launched.

In 2004, Mireille published “French Women Don’t Get Fat,” which was a lifestyle book that explores the four basic food loves, freshness, variety, balance, and always pleasure.   Janet Maslin of the New York Times noted, “Ms. Guiliano turns out to be eminently level headed. She combines reasonable thoughts about nutrition with a general endorsement of joie de vivre, and her tone is girl friendly enough to account for the book’s runaway popularity.”

Since then she has published three more books on the joie de vivre that the French (especially French women) bring to their daily lives.  They include French Women For All Seasons, Women, Work & the Art of Savoir Faire: Business Sense & Sensibility, and her latest, The French Women Don’t Get Fat Cookbook. Each has done well and her initial book has been translated into 37 languages after spending a good deal of time atop The New York Times.  Her writing has resonated with those who are turned off after reading through forests of yo-yo fad diets, where the weight often returns with a vengeance.  Although counterintuitive at first blush, Mireille recommended bread, Champagne, chocolate and romance as key ingredients to a balanced diet and joyous lifestyle.

It’s more than the food you eat; it’s all about the life you live.

Joie de vivre from an early age.  Mireille grew up in provincial France where she spent her childhood immersed in a foodie culture that few could imagine here in the America, where Velveeta is considered its own food group and the only lettuce was iceberg.

As she related in her biography, “as a typically slender French girl, Mireille went to America as an exchange student and came back fat. That shock sent her into an adolescent tailspin, until her kindly family physician, “Dr. Miracle,” came to the rescue. Reintroducing her to classic principles of French gastronomy plus time-honored secrets of the local women, he helped her restore her shape and gave her a whole new understanding of food, drink, and life. The key? Not guilt or deprivation but learning to get the most from the things you most enjoy. Following her own version of this traditional wisdom, she has ever since relished a life of indulgence without bulge, satisfying yen without yo-yo on three meals a day.”

Americans and their relationship with Food. Mireille has noticed that Americans have an adversarial relationship with food; we attack and devour opposed to savor and enjoy.   We wolf down our breakfasts or lunches taking the tie to enjoy the experiences.  Worse, the allure of fast food also brings a wealth of food additives and preservatives which hide an impoverished nutritional value. For the sake of expedience, we slowly poison ourselves, even with foods that are supposedly low in fat, sugar, and high in health value.

Worse, this may be our undoing.  In a September 2008 edition of Newsweek, Mireille wrote, “America gives the world many things—movies, pop culture, fast food, airplanes, military equipment—but the culture of obesity is turning out to be its leading export. 

America…. leads the parade. Thirty five percent of women are obese, defined as having over thirty percent body fat, as are twenty percent of men, with at least twenty five percent body fat.  The percentage of overweight men (those whose body fat measures between 18 and 24 percent) and women (between twenty five and thirty one percent) is nearly double those figures.  But don’t rely on statistics, just look around.   America, though, continues to lead the parade.  I recently went to Orlando, Florida to open the annual six-week wine and food festival at Epcot. The smiling guide who met me at the airport was in her 20s, tall and way overweight. During our car ride to the hotel, I learned she likes her job, likes to eat but not to cook, and–no surprise–she loves sweets. Three days later, I had met more than a half dozen similarly highly educated, well trained and passionate young employees and the picture was one and the same: delightful, dedicated people but all overweight.

What’s most shocking is that people, especially women in America, are accepting being overweight as the norm. Many are not the least bit self conscious. And while many governments and the international media have only recently awakened to the obesity crisis and its many costs, though the arrows have been pointing to this crisis for decades in America, yet things continue to get worse.”

The importance of wine.  During a 60 Minutes segment anchored by Morley Safer, Americans were introduced to the French Paradox, the notion that our continental friend might smoke like chimneys, eat enough butter and eggs to cause an avalanche of heart attacks, never hit the treadmill, but they live longer and richer lives. They have less heart disease. The antioxidants in red wine, when consumed in moderate amounts, are heart healthy.

However wine does something else not found in the Journal of the American Medical Association.  Wine slows down the pacing of a meal and allows you to slowly enjoy your food. Nobody gulps down wine, whether it is a grand vintage or something else that resides inside a Mylar liner inside a plastic box. By pacing your meal, wine offers your brain to transmit the “I’m full” message without overstuffing yourself in the process. Serving wine at lunch or dinner serves as a natural braking mechanism that keeps our culinary behaviors (or more likely, our misbehaviors) in check. 

As a side note, we used to served some great wines, thanks to the wine cellar of Arleigh Taylor and it was to uncommon to have a bottle of Screaming Eagle or some other cult vintage around the table—but nobody drank it because we were going back to work afterwards. However, the corks do fly on the evening and weekend versions of Luncheon Society gatherings.

After stepping down as the long time spokesperson for Champagne Veuve Clicquot and former President and CEO of Clicquot, Inc. (LVMH), Mireille embarked on a new journey of writing and speaking. Using the skills she first developed at a translator and then corporate executive, she now evangelizes the “French Way.”

Her newest book, The French Women Don’t Get Fat Cookbook,  contains 150 simple and recipes that help put structure around her success found in “French Women do not get Fat.” Between the easy-to-make dishes, readers will be charmed by a variety of stories of Mireille’s life on several continents. In the end, you can eat well without depriving yourself of life’s diverse cuisine

The proof is in the Pudding. If you don’t believe me, look at the bottom line results.  Today, French women have an obesity rate of roughly 10%, while American women weigh in at roughly 35%, with more than 30% of body fat.  Meanwhile the average life expectancy today for French women (CIA World Factbook 2009) is 84.1 but for their American counterpart is only 80.8.  I would expect that gap to widen—and not shrink—as we move into the second decade of the 21st century.

Here is something else to ponder.  Those French men and women who are nearly 100 years old and swear by their daily glass of wine survived the horrors of two World Wars and the privation of Occupation, where scarcity was a daily reality. It’s fair to say that the first person who will live to 150 years of age is alive today; I am willing to bet that this toddler speaks French. 

The Luncheon Society is a laid back place to kick around some big ideas in the private room of a great restaurant.  In a world where talking points are spun to irrelevance, we are a place that promotes spirited conversation.  Luncheon Society gatherings takes place around a large table, where you interact with the main guest, other interesting folks, and leave the room learning something you didn’t know when you entered.  There are no rules, very little structure, and the lunches happen when they happen.  Come to the ones that work with your schedule and pique your interest.  It’s that simple. Luncheons take place in San Francisco, Los Angeles and, New York.

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One response to “The Luncheon Society/”French Women Don’t Get Fat” author Mireille Guiliano/SF-Palio D’Asti/May 7, 2010

  1. Pingback: The Luncheon Society/First Half 2010 recap/What’s coming up in the Second Half « The Luncheon Society

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