France is having its own Food Revolution (Jamie Oliver, meet Cyril Lignac)!

It may surprise many to learn that France might be in need of a food revolution. But over the past decade or so, the French have started to worry about their food culture. Fast food, frozen food entrees, drive-thru restaurants…you name it, they’ve got it.

France now has more McDonald’s outlets than any other European country (and they’re not only full of American tourists)! And there are more Picard outlets (that’s the upscale French frozen food company) in central Paris than subway stations. It turns out that the French are dealing with a lot of the same pressures we are: long workdays, long commutes, less purchasing power etc. And, in response, they’ve started turning to ‘Americanized’ food in growing numbers.

So the French have started their own Food Revolution…but it’s gone much farther and faster than in the ‘anglo-saxon’ world (as they like to call us English-speakers). One of the first things they did was to revive the concept of Food Day…except that in France it’s a whole Food Week.

The government also banned vending machines in schools (yep, that’s right, all schools, no exceptions), and then revised nutrition guidelines for the 6 million French kids eating in school cafeterias every day. (You can check out some of the (unbelievably) delicious menus that French school kids eat at my French Kids School Lunch Project). The French even asked UNESCO to add French gastronomy to the list of ‘intangible cultural heritage of humanity’ (along with Japanese silk-making, and Spanish flamenco).

So France’s equivalent of Jamie Oliver, a chef named Cyril Lignac, arguably had a much easier job than his British counterpart. Both went into schools, made a TV show, wrote cookbooks. But whereas Jamie’s reception was, to put it bluntly, mixed, Cyril was received with open arms. The names of their two TV shows say it all: rather than Food Revolution, Lignac’s show was called Vive la Cantine (Long Live the Cafeteria)!

This might sound a little odd to self-styled ‘food revolutionaries’ in North America, but French kids (and parents) really love school lunches. They’re healthy, delicious, and affordable (an average of $3 for a freshly prepared, 3-course hot meal; and kids from low-income families pay as little as 20 cents). The French are so proud that most communities (even tiny villages) now post their menus on-line–which is why I can translate them every week for the French Kids School Lunch Project).

These menus make the point that kids can eat well. The results of France’s Food Revolution (which is arguably a few centuries old) are there for all to see.

So, no more excuses! If the French can have a far-reaching Food Revolution, we can too.

ps I find it hard to understand, knowing the French example, why so many North Americans believe that kids only like ‘kid’s food’. Why do you think we fall into the trap of thinking that kids don’t like healthy food?

One thought on “France is having its own Food Revolution (Jamie Oliver, meet Cyril Lignac)!

  1. Most of the time I think our school does a decent job of providing nutritious meals. I think there is a lot of variation on where you go as to what the school cafeteria might be serving. I wouldn’t ever want the option of taking a lunch from home to be taken away though.

    I agree vending machines should be banned. Schools have become dependent on the revenue from vending machines, unfortunately.

    I’m not familiar with Cyril Lignac. As far as Jamie Oliver goes, I think how he delivered his message was why he met with mixed reviews. Getting celebrities involved in any issue can be tricky. For instance, there is a woman who has recently put on cookbook related to issues of family eating who has shown herself to be a huge hypocrite in other issues….that makes on more skeptical of anything she has to say, even if the message is good.


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