Monday, 24 August 2009

Why it's easy for the French to eat healthily

As you know I was going to give the blog a break but I've been overwhelmed at the quality of the produce in the south of France since we've been here. The apricots and grapes above come from a marvellous greengrocer in the small seaside resort of Le Grau d'Agde. It's open year round but is at its peak at this time of year. Our lunch yesterday consisted of tapenade and goats cheese, bought at the daily market, a bunch of hot peppery radishes (1 euro or 87p at current exchange rates) a couple of huge, misshapen but sweet, sweet tomatoes (€1.20/£1) and 5 fat figs (82 cents/71p). 4 out of our recommended 5 a day in one meal.

It's so easy to eat healthily - and the weather so hot you don't feel like doing anything else. Cooked food, especially meat, loses its appeal. All I want to eat is salads, fish, the occasional bit of cheese and fruit. Endless fruit.

Every stall in the market is laden with peaches - you can buy them for as little as 5 euros/£4.34 a tray (about 3 kilos I would guess) They're so ripe you can barely touch them without bruising them. You're lucky if they survive till next day - which is why, of course, we don't get fruit of this quality at home. They have to be picked earlier, refrigerated, transported the 600 miles or so across France and however many miles to a depot then distributed across the country. No wonder they don't taste of anything and cost three or four times as much.

What I can't understand is why we pay so much for fruit and vegetables we can grow perfectly well. Lettuces for example. In the greengrocer here they have five or six varieties - at around 90 cents (78p) and they're huge. Of course you have to wash them which people are no longer prepared to do back home but the flavour is wonderful - crisp, crunchy and sweet.

It is actually possible I might lose weight on this holiday (though I wouldn't bet on it given the amount of baguette I also manage to stuff down). I'll certainly end up a great deal healthier.


Claudine in France said...

I couldn't agree more!
When I lived in the UK, fresh ripe apricots, peaches or melons were near-impossible to find. As nice as they looked, they were either rock-hard or tasteless, or both.
I am now living in the Lot in France and I can simply go to the local market 15 mn away to buy large trays of ripe and juicy fruit at little more than €1 or 75p per kg. I make jams and cook for the freezer for the winter months.
I eat a lot more fresh produce, which does not travel hundreds of miles. Everything is produced regionally and picked when ripe.
Melon for breakfast, freshly-made ratatouille, stuffed courgettes, fresh fruit salad through the day...
I am working on growing my favourite veggies next year, reducing the costs even more.

My life in the UK was a lot more rushed and hectic and I completely understand that these options may not be available there. More's the pity...

Charlie said...

I often wondered who bought those trays of peaches that were only good for at most two days. People with very large families maybe?

Fiona Beckett said...

or people who want to make jam like Claudine, Charlie. Resisted the temptation anyway!

Helen T said...

Great post, and so true. I think still having the infastructure of local food and local markets helps an awful lot, as well as never having lost the seasonal food aspect.

That said, as much as I adore everything I find, I do always get a craving for a decent curry at the end of our 3 weeks! There is usually a curry on offer at the market at St Jean D'Angely. Can't miss it, great smell drifting round the market and it's housed under a canopy from an old Citroen van.

Pining to be back in the Charente now though!

Fiona Beckett said...

Agree on the curry front, Helen. I do miss spicy food. But the fruit here is truly wonderful. Since I wrote the post have been scoffing the new season's grapes, melons, peaches like there's no tomorrow!

Mrs. Belogski said...

just back from the French Alps - we have also been gorging ourselves on peaches, nectarines and apricots, as well as plums - greengages, reine claudes and mirabelles in particular. We always eat so much better on holiday, my children have been complaining they are hungry constantly since our return!