Archive for August, 2009

Why Milk in France is a Completely Different Animal from Milk in the U.S.

August 26, 2009 5 comments

THE FORMER MIGEON COWS produce milk in the Franche-Comte region of France for the delicious "Comte" variety of cheese.--photo by Anna Migeon

A nice big glass of cold milk—that’s something that’s pretty foreign to the French.

The typical French person of any age wouldn’t think of drinking a glass of milk with a meal. Even children hardly drink milk plain once they leave babyhood. Even coffee is generally taken black, maybe with sugar. At any age one might have café au lait or hot chocolate for breakfast or gouter, but that’s about it.


A FEW OF THE CHEESES produced in France. -- photo by Anna Migeon


The French eat an amazing array of cultured milk products, though. France produces literally hundreds of varieties of cheese—no one knows just how many—from fresh and firm or fluid to dry and hard as a bar of soap, and everything in between. They make them from the milk of goats and sheep as well as cows. Every region has its own special types, formed by the climate, altitude, type of grass and breed of cow as well as variations of fat, added ingredients, temperature and aging. Small yet meaningful differences create infinite shades of variety in texture, flavor and appearance.

Then there are the several yogurts, and other categories unto themselves like my particular favorite, faisselle (sold dripping whey through its own strainer within the pot), the tiny Petit Swiss (almost like cream cheese, but eaten as a snack) and the glorious crème fraiche.

It seems to be mainly in America that humans drink milk straight and generally assume it’s a healthy choice.

Our milk itself also differs significantly from the milk found in France, which is more often raw and/or cultured and generally produced by pastured animals.

Problems with Pasteurization

Raw milk, readily available in France, contains good bacteria that protect us against possible bad bacteria. When we pasteurize milk, to add injustice to injury, we also destroy its beneficial enzymes. The process removes much of the nutrition of milk along with of a human’s ability to use whatever nutrition is left.

With today’s super sanitary technology procedures, we don’t even need to pasteurize our milk, but we still do.

Traditional Food Processing that Improves Nutrition

Though milk wasn’t a part of the earliest human diet, once we humans began to domesticate animals, we found ways to make it work.

The natural processes of lacto-fermentation not only provided a way to preserve milk in the absence of refrigeration, but also brought variety in flavor and texture and made it both easier to digest and more nutritious.

Ever wonder why we see so many milk allergies? Like wheat, it’s an imperfect food; the right methods are needed to improve it. Cultured dairy products are part of many traditional and outstandingly healthy ways of eating, according to research on non-industrialized societies in the 20th century and earlier. Overly processed, sterile milk and products like Velveeta are not.

Today, we’ve taken steps backwards by getting in the way of the course of nature.


LACTO-PERMENTATION IS WELL ADVANCED in these cheeses, found in a outdoor market in Paris this summer. -- photo by Anna Migeon

Out to Pasture

Even if we started with the raw milk and rediscovered the traditional, beneficial processes, we are still short on the right cows.

The norm in France is still the small family farm.  My father-in-law’s herd of 50 cows, which he inherited from his father, was passed down to my brother-in-law, and then sold to someone else a few years ago. The descendants of that small, healthy group, pictured above, are still feeding freely on grass in their same pastures today. Giving them hormones is illegal.

Modern American cows, on the other hand, are “freaks of nature,” according to Sally Fallon in Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats. Raised in crowded, filthy pens, stimulated by hormones and improperly fed to produce abnormal volumes of milk, we pump the poor things with antibiotics when their health fails. The conventional cow, Fallon notes, is secreting pus along with its milk.

I wonder: could the French paradox—the fact that the French eat more fat than we do, yet have lower rates of heart disease and such—be equally credited to their milk, at least as much as their wine?


I just found a source for organic raw milk, produced by grass-fed cows, in San Antonio. They are licensed to sell raw milk, which is tested by the health department every other day, but not to deliver it. Kind of takes the renegade thrill out of it. I was rather hoping to buy it illegally.

Related post: French paradox: other possible explanations?

© Sacred Appetite / Anna Migeon / 26 August 2009 / All rights reserved

Categories: Uncategorized

Dr. Vincent Boggio’s recommendations on losing weight for French kids

August 23, 2009 Leave a comment

ParisMarketFruitDSC_6832HEALTHY EATING IN FRANCE is pure temptation when you see such gorgeous fresh produce, offered here at a Sunday morning outdoor market in Paris. — photo by Anna Migeon

“What do I do? My child is fat,*” French parents are starting to ask.

French pediatrician Vincent Boggio of has published two books (Que Faire? Mon Enfant est Trop Gros*, 2004, and La Methode Papillote, 2008 ) to answer that question. His method for weight loss designed for children, with the support of their parents, is simple:

1. Walk 30 minutes a day,

2. Eat only during meals,

3. And don’t ever take seconds.

Boggio insists on the importance of waiting for the momentum of a child’s own motivation to give wings to the plan.

Younger kids will be motivated by not wanting to be made fun of (I hope we can do better than this to encourage them), Boggio explains. A middle schooler’s greatest concern is to be like the others (I’m not really in favor of exploiting that weakness, either). As they get a little older, motivation will come from wanting to be romantically attractive.

At any age, the desire to participate in sports can be an excellent motivator to lose kilos, though we should never insist on a child’s participation as a way to lose weight, he cautions.

I’m all for the first two parts of his plan. I don’t see any reason for the third if you are serving all excellent foods: vegetables, fruit, unprocessed meat. It’s hard to stuff yourself on those foods and they aren’t going to make anybody fat anyway.

Related post: “How to get fat eating vegetables”

© Sacred Appetite  / Anna Migeon / 23 August 2009 / All rights reserved

Categories: Uncategorized

On the French Front: Today’s French Kids are Getting Fat

August 21, 2009 1 comment

DSC_6479THE ONLY TIME FRENCH KIDS would eat outside of meals or official snack time, traditionally, would be when they were picking fruit or nuts found along their path or in the family orchard or vineyard, as my little darling is doing here while visiting her French grandparents this summer. –photo by Anna Migeon

I just got back from 17 days in France visiting my husband’s family. It had been three years since we’d been there.

And yes, we could see a difference, much as I hate to admit it. Fat French kids, once few and far between, are now plentiful. We’ve still got them beat, though: only about one in six French kids is overweight versus one in three in the US. We see more overweight adults, too, though it’s not yet at the magnitude of Americans.

My casual observation tells me the French are maintaining the same seemingly detrimental eating habits they’ve always had:

  1. Loads of white bread
  2. A steady flow of desserts (always with meals)
  3. Prodigious quantities of cheese

Based on my observations of our French relatives, they also seem to be generally keeping up certain good traditional habits that Americans would do well to emulate:

  1. They don’t nibble and snack at all hours. Eating is a deliberate, focused event. If somebody’s eating, it’s either meal time or snack time.
  2. They don’t eat in front of the TV.
  3. They eat a smaller variety of unhealthy foods and a greater variety of healthy whole foods (vegetables, fruits, meats, fish, poultry). Instead of just chicken, for example, they also eat duck, quail and guinea fowl. They eat rabbit. They even like organ meats, including liver.

Another observation I made of a continued good tradition, not only among my relatives, but all over France, was far more home vegetables gardens than in the U.S. Wherever there is space, people are growing their own fresh produce. That means some better tasting, more nutritious food. It also promotes a more personal connection to healthy food for their children.

Some changes I noticed, though, might be responsible for tipping the scales in favor of expanding waistlines in France.

Though I did not personally observe any extra-meal munching by our own family members, this insidious trend has apparently taken root among some French people. We can only infer it has snuck in from the fact that French weight-loss-for-kids author Dr. Vincent Boggio targets it: avoid snacking at all hours, he prescribes. Limit eating to meal times and set snack times.

American influence is continuing to grow there, too, for better or worse. More advertisements are written in English than ever, indicating its “coolness.” A stronger pop youth culture, with its preoccupation with TV, computers and video games, is evident. There are far more TV channels now than in the 90s when we lived there. I even heard that school is becoming ever less engaging and less challenging, with lowering standards so that a greater percentage of students can “succeed” in getting their high school diploma.

As the French follow us down the paths of least resistance, they are responding, like us, to the ever-insistent stimuli supplied by junk food marketers. McDonalds, or McDo, as they call it, is said to be the biggest franchise in France now. The floodgates have opened. When we first lived in France, we had to drive an hour to find one.

The most significant factor in the French shift toward junk food and obesity may be the discovery of Coke. From 2002 to 2004, European sales of Coke rose 37 percent. I predict that sales grew even more from 2006, when I had last stepped foot on French soil, to 2009, based on personal observation.

I noticed a lot more “coca” drinking among family members than three years ago. It now joins apéritifs like champagne, Pastis or homemade walnut wine and fruit juice, served with finger food, for the traditional French appetizers brought out before a dinner with guests. I heard comments by different parents about how much “coca” their kids were drinking these days. Teens seem to prefer it to alcohol, and I’m far from convinced that’s a good thing.

Therein a major shift from the generation of my children’s French grandparents. My mother-in-law had never even tasted Coke at age 55. At the time (1989), I had never met anyone who’d never tried Coke. This last visit there, my husband’s aunt, in her 70s, told us she’d still never tried it, though she said her grandsons guzzled it like addicts.

Soft drinks are the top item by volume that we Americans put in our mouths, and I challenge you to find any American of any age who can tell you that Coke hasn’t touched his lips. Is it any wonder we’re fat?

Hard economic times may also be playing a role in the fattening up of the French and their children, I suspect. Stress promotes weight gain. Some folks may be working longer hours to make more money or secure their jobs. More moms may have to work. Overall, people may have less time and energy for cooking.

The money squeeze also means relying on cheaper foods like potatoes, bread, rice,  pasta and legumes, which are less nutrient- dense and more fattening, instead of higher quality options: meat, fish, fruit and vegetables.

One of our French relatives told me they don’t eat more fruit and vegetables because they are expensive, in spite of her fear about gaining weight. As I told her, as unsympathetic as it sounds (I knew she wasn’t all that hard up): “That’s normal, because fruit and veggies have more value than those starches that fill you up but are actually detrimental to your health.”

I guess the more bad options and influences we all have, the more we have to exercise our freedom and be informed.

May the French, as well as us Americans, in that space between stimulus and response, chose their response. We all can find freedom from bad health and obesity in that opportunity to choose.

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

– Victor Frankl

Coming next: Dr. Vincent Boggio’s recommendations for losing weight for French kids

© Sacred Appetite / Anna Migeon / 21 August 2009 / All rights reserved

On the French Front: Crazy French Beliefs about American Eating Habits

August 19, 2009 2 comments

Stock eifel tower

I just got back from 17 days in France visiting my husband’s family there.

One evening at my parents-in-laws’ house, I met a woman whose first question to me was:  “But do you have regular meals at your house in America?”

I knew what she was getting at, but I felt defensive.  I knew she had a point, but I was irritated. Also, as if I would admit it at this point if the answer was no.

I felt like I was being asked if I had quit beating up my husband.  I felt like she was holding up a piece of our collective national dirty laundry for examination.  I may criticize American ways here within the family, but I have to defend them to the outsiders.

“Well, yes,” I responded, in a slightly snippy tone as if I thought she were insane.  If there were an equivalent to “duh” in French I would have been tempted to use it.

“You obviously don’t know who you are talking to,” I felt like saying.  Which she didn’t, of course. “I am a proponent of the family meal and healthy home cooking in America. I am actively trying to make a difference with that little problem (not that we need it, as far as you’re concerned).  Sorry it’s not good enough.”

The question felt to me somehow like she was asking the pope if anything was being done to teach the people of the world about Jesus.  Actually a much bigger part of me felt as if I were from Africa and she was asking me if my family were cannibals.

The woman went on to justify her question: a French teenager of her acquaintance had gone to the U.S. and stayed with a family. No one in the family ever cooked, nor did they have any regular meal times or even any actual meals. That French teenager, she noted, was shocked and miserable in that situation.

I admitted that yes, such people existed, but that it wasn’t us.

The conversation reminded me of when my French husband and I first got married, living in France, and we invited his aunt and her adult sons to have dinner with us.  They came, and one cousin mentioned how surprised he was that I had actually cooked a homemade meal. He had believed that Americans never cooked, but ate only fast food, hamburgers in particular, day in and day out.

I laughed a lot about how crazy such an idea was, and how utterly silly he was to think such a thing. Such an overstatement, such a ridiculous stereotype.  Yet I knew in my heart there was some grain of truth to it, especially in contrast to the exuberance and reverence of the French toward quality food and family mealtimes.

What I didn’t tell this woman was that my French husband had also spent a few months with a family in the U.S. when he was 20. The culture shock for him as well was that the family had no regular lunches. Everybody would go dig in the fridge for something to eat. Also, the mom would cook something at night but with obvious reluctance.

Traditionally in France, moms see cooking and providing home-cooked regular meals as well as a regular after-school snack as an indispensible part of their job description, he told me. Somebody has to cook.

Here, as we all know, that’s not a given.

So, just so you know, I’m defending our honor. But just between us, I think we might have a little something that could use some work.

© Sacred Appetite / Anna Migeon / 19 August 2009 / All rights reserved

Training Kids to Tune Out External Cues, Tune in to Internal Ones

August 17, 2009 1 comment

Stock girl looking in fridge

How do we humans know when it’s time to eat? Or how much to eat?

It starts well: in the beginning, our hunger perfectly regulates our eating.  A baby cries when she’s hungry and we feed her the optimal food—breast milk—or the best baby formula we can buy. It’s a simple as that.  Parents, who know best, feed the baby only those foods that will benefit her, and she learns to like them. So far, so good.

Getting civilized

It all becomes considerably more complicated as we grow up. In part, it’s a matter of becoming more civilized in our eating habits. Learning to follow some external cues to eating is beneficial to our health. If we learn to adapt to regular meal and snack times, we find ourselves becoming hungry at those times and not so much at others.

But we can go wrong when we learn to listen to the chaos of other external cues to eat.  In American society, a multitude of other forces pressure us to eat too much of all the wrong things.  Without good habits, we get in the find ourselves listening to all those siren calls to eat, and the still small voice of our healthy appetite is easily silenced.

Just following orders

Instead of listening to our bodies, we eat because it’s there.

For example, serving sizes of many foods ballooned in the 1980s, and so did the average body. We saw those supersize packs of fries and we unquestioningly accepted that as the “right amount.” We became conditioned to eating more, not because we were hungrier, but simply because manufacturers handed us bigger servings.

In the 2006 book Mindless Eating, author Brian Wansink confirms through numerous experiments this human tendency to fall into overeating like sleep walkers into a huge pit in the ground. We’re easy prey for junk food pushers, and we listen precious little to our tummies.  The average American is generally unaware of why he’s eating or how much he’s putting away, according to Wansink’s data.

Pitfalls to avoid

Some of the cues to mindless eating can be found in our own kitchens.  What inducements to eat are you unconsciously giving your kids (and yourself), regardless of actual hunger or mealtimes? Like the built-in incentive to “get your money’s worth” at an all-you-can-eat buffet, what reasons are we giving our kids to eat more than they need or really want?

Ellyn Satter, author of the excellent How to Get Your Kid to Eat…But Not Too Much recommends cutting down as much as possible on non-hunger related and non-meal time nudges toward eating.

·Avoid having a lot of food sitting around in view, which encourages consumption. I say we use this concept to good advantage: keep attractive fresh fruit sitting around at all times. There’s little danger of overdosing on it. I also push consumption of raw vegetables just by simply cutting them up (without comment) and setting them on the table before dinner (when they’re hungry) or during dinner, with or without a healthy homemade dip. The kids eat them somewhat mindlessly but I let it slide.

·Avoid having temptations like a candy dish or cookie jar sitting around, which naturally leads to eating the contents. If you’re going to enjoy a cookie, be deliberate about it. Don’t just eat it because it’s there, Satter advises.   I say, again, if you’re going to have things sitting around in view, make it the right things. If everything you serve is healthy, overeating is never really an issue.

·Resist eating in front of the TV.  Are you conditioning your kids to have a Pavlov’s dog response to sitting down in front of the TV? Eating whenever you watch a movie is bad enough, unless you watch one only rarely, but TV, with its endless ads, is an all out assault of junk food cues. Unless you scarcely watch TV, it is powerfully working against all efforts at healthy, normal eating.

·Limit opportunities to eat: only at the table, for example.

·Forbid other activities when eating, such as reading, watching TV or playing video games.

These suggestions are not tricks to getting kids to eat, Satter notes, but “techniques to encourage deliberate and attentive eating that is likely to be satisfying.”

Other posts on this subject:

“Eating Mindfully: How to keep kids from getting fat by turning on to better food”

“Strategies for Eating Mindlessly/Strategies for More Mindful Eating”

© Sacred Appetite / Anna Migeon / 17 August 2009 / All rights reserved

This post was featured on Food Renegade’s Fight Back Friday on Jan. 29, 2010

Shrimp Remoulade with Hearts of Palm and Avocado

August 8, 2009 Leave a comment

    Stock palm tree An ingredient more common in France than in the U.S., hearts of palm are the soft inner core of the young shoots of various kinds of palm tree, including the coconut palm.  They are interesting little nibbles. It’s something to talk about and a great way to introduce an interesting and unusual new veggie.  I made the salad with twice the amount of hearts of palm the original recipe called for, and my daughter, who wasn’t familiar with them before, asked if there were any more of them after we finished the last of the leftovers. This unusual little salad was a big hit with us.

This no-cook dish could hardly be simpler or quicker to make.  I also like recipes like this one that don’t demand precision. They can be thrown together with more or less of everything and it all works out. Sloppy, hasty measurements are permitted, and adjustments according to abundance or scarcity. This recipe can be eaten with more lettuce if you get short on the fixings, or less if you want to have a heavier meal, for example. It’s good with lots of avocados, and I could probably add more hearts of palm or shrimp without hearing any complaints.

Shrimp is a great health food, so I look for new ways to fix it and shoot for serving it somehow every couple of weeks.

This recipe should make enough for two meals for four adults/teens. I made half this amount and three of us ate it for two meals but we wouldn’t have minded having more of the goodies. We ate nothing but this salad for dinner last night and then finished it for lunch today.

For this amount for two meals, I would spend $3.80 on the hearts of palm (canned) alone. The two pounds of shrimp would be another $10. Avocados were running $1 each (usually around 69¢) this week. A couple more dollars for the Romaine (I bought a pack of three heads for $3 and the three of us got two meals from them). Dijon mustard is expensive, and this recipe calls for a bunch of it, but I get enormous plastic squeeze bottles of it for 99¢ at the 99¢ Only Store. If you don’t already have tarragon vinegar, I’d try it with white wine vinegar.

1 C olive oil

¾ C chopped onion

½ to ¾ C Dijon mustard (that’s right: 1/2 C or more)

1/3 C tarragon vinegar

4 garlic cloves

2 ½ t paprika

¾ t or less salt

1 t cayenne pepper

1 C coarsely chopped green onions

Romaine lettuce, two or three heads

2 lbs cooked, peeled, deveined large or small shrimp

28 oz of diced hearts of palm from a jar, can (drained and rinsed) or frozen

4-6 avocados, diced (cut up only half for the first meal)

Combine first 8 ingredients in a food processor and blend well. Add green onions and blend mixture a little more and put it in a bowl.  Combine shrimp with hearts of palm in a bowl. Serve lettuce, sauce, shrimp and hearts of palm, and avocados in separate bowls and let everyone compile their own salads.

Adapted from Bon Appétit’s Deliciously Light cookbook.

©  Sacred Appetite  / Anna Migeon / 1 August 2009 / All rights reserved


Strategies for Eating Mindlessly / Strategies for More Mindful Eating

August 3, 2009 3 comments

Stock family eating 2

Eleven Strategies of Mindless Eating:

·       ·Make food look like something else, a face, or a tiny airplane, or a rabbit, for example.

·Distract kids from the food itself, making eating a game so kids won’t think about the fact that they’re eating.

·Make food and eating a battle ground of wills.

·Connect eating to punishment or reward.

·Tell kids to clean their plates.

·Tell them what and how much to eat.

·Sneak vegetables into other foods so no one can taste them or get to like them.

·View eating as a mere physical necessity, like going to the gas station or going to the toilet, instead of taking time to enjoy and savor.

·Eat in front of the TV.

·Make the same foods over and over, week after week, utilitarian-style.

·Make healthy foods spartan and bland, allowing junk food to outdo them in appeal.

Stock family eating

Eleven Ways to Eat More Mindfully:

1.Make the tastiest healthy dishes you can manage.

2.Serve the biggest variety possible, using spices and herbs to vary the flavors and making new dishes continually for nonstop surprise and novelty.

3.Serve all healthy foods and allow children to decide themselves which ones and how much to eat.

4.Talk more about how food is good than how it’s good for you.

5.Get kids involved in buying and preparing, even growing, what they eat.

6.Do nothing else when you eat. No TV, no screens, no distractions.

7.Don’t eat in the car or on the run any more than you can help it.

8.Have regular family meal times around the table as often as possible.

9.Serve in courses to slow down the process and really pay attention to each part of the meal.

10.Focus attention on the food: talk about it, bring up an interesting fact about it, or talk about its flavor, textures, appearance, smell.

11.Talk about how you feel after eating.

Other posts on similar subjects:

“Close Encounters of the Food Kind: Single-Minded, Whole-Hearted Attention to Eating”

“Nine Worst & Best Things to Say to Kids at the Table”

Sacred Appetite / Anna Migeon  / 3 August 2009 / All rights reserved

This post was featured on Food Renegade’s Fight Back Friday on Sept. 17, 2010.