Saturday, February 14, 2009

Perils of the Gastronomy (3rd Installment)

One word: Bread

The average French person eats one baguette traditionnale/day. French law dictates that baguettes must be at least 80 cm in length and 5 - 6 cm in diameter. That, quite simply, is a lot of bread for a single person over the course of a week.

And of course, that's only the baguette consumption. There are plenty of other kinds of breads available at any one of the four bazillion boulangeries in the country: multi grain, whole wheat, unleavened, stale (just for soup croutons), round, square; pain de this, pain de that, etc. etc. It's astounding. They all taste the same, and different.

France (being a highly protectionist state) prides itself on producing all the wheat necessary for said bazillion boulangerie; no more, no less. In the countryside, whole families participate in the annual wheat harvest (whether they are wheat producers or not) partly for a bit of extra money, but mostly to fulfill their civic duty to their country. Wheat is as important to the French gastronomy and domestic economy as the vine, and to think otherwise is an insult and to not consume your minimum daily bread allotment is downright unpatriotic. A boulangere considers it a personal failure if they have bread left-over at the end of the day. (The politics of the baguette are fascinating and too multi-layered to get into here.)

Tradition dictates all in France gastronomy. No one questions whether or not that much bread is actually nourishing them or if they really need it. They just consume an heroic amount of bread because that's what they've done for generations. And this brings me to my theory (which admittedly may be one of the more ridiculous generalizations ever made, but hey, it's my blog) : I think France just may be one big gluten allergy.

Wheat, while a beautiful grain, is not for everyone. For example, one of the most obvious long-term results of an unchecked gluten allergy is osteoporosis. For all of the milk consumed out here in France's giant dairy barn, Normandy, I actually see of a lot people over 60 with the tell-tale signs of osteoporosis. (Our 85+ year old neighbor, Madame Hibou, is stooped over like a candy cane and always wonders why her back hurts, but I'll be damned if she doesn't make it to the boulangerie everyday.) Gluten intolerance can also result in irritability, depression, melancholy, and declined dental health. Uh, check, check, check AND check.

Now, I'm mostly just bringing this up because I'm realizing there are a lot of reasons why I'll never be French, and one of those is that I'll never, ever be able to eat that much bread. I don't think I have a serious gluten allergy, but I do know that when I consume too many crusty baguettes in a week my body responds fairly quickly and I know that if I don't back off, it won't be good.

In fact, upon arriving in France, Greg and I wanted to fit into this little town so badly we made our daily trip to the local boulangerie for the obligatory crusty baguette and other wheat laden goodies. Even after exercising all the numerous multi-uses for stale bread, half-eaten baguettes started to accumulate so quickly in our kitchen that it was ridiculous. We placed a moratorium on daily baguette purchases and just yesterday finally brought ourselves to dispose of the large bag of two-month old bread bits, admitting that despite best intentions, bread pudding just will not happen and another jar of bread crumbs is just not necessary.

I wholeheartedly apologize to all the wheat producers, millers, and bakers out there. I am yet another obnoxious immigrant with unreasonable body awareness issues and an innate desire to challenge tradition. Don't hate me. I have every intention to do my part by making up for it in wine consumption. Deal?

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