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  • Manger: Français, Européens et Américains face à l’alimentation
  • Daisy Anne Bow
Manger: Français, Européens et Américains face à l’alimentation. By Claude Fischler and Estelle Masson (Paris: Editions Odile Jacob, 2008. 336 pp.).

Manger: Français, Européens et Américains face à l’alimentation1 opens with a quotation from French writer and diplomat Paul Morand, and another from American sociologist Daniel Lerner. Morand, writing in 1937, remarked that watching New Yorkers at lunch—eating on-the-go in an orderly row, with their hats still on their heads—reminded him of animals being fed “in a stable”. Lerner, writing [End Page 478] about 25 years after Morand, noted that the way the French ate made him think of feeding times at the zoo: a rigid adherence to meal-times, with each meal being composed of unvarying elements served day after day (11). These two observations, placed side by side, illustrate the way that differences between ourselves and others are often conceived of in terms of food. Editors Estelle Masson and Claude Fischler point out that, either consciously or unconsciously, both descriptions reflect the cultural values of each writer. For the Frenchman, the American’s apparent lack of sociability and ritual seems practically barbaric. For the American, the perceived excess of rules and regulations in France governing what to eat and when, constitutes a systematic oppression, if not suppression, of the individual through a restriction of personal freedom.

Food, in comparative contexts, is often a sensitive subject as we frequently define self-identity in terms of what we do or do not eat, and how. Even scientists, as Masson and Fischler discuss in their first chapter, are not immune from making personal judgments that can reveal how they might positively view their own eating practices, and negatively view those of others. This problem of reflexivity, as Masson and Fischler put it, begs the question: How can the researcher moderate the influence of these “cultural lenses” (12) on the collection and subsequent evaluation of data? The answer, according to Masson and Fischler, perhaps lies not in eliminating subjectivity, but in harnessing it. By consciously considering how one’s “cultural lenses” both inform and deform observations, Fischler and Masson, along with their team of contributing scientists, hope to shed some light on how, and to what extent, relationships among food, health, and the body differ from country to country, and whether or not there might be something specific to each culture that can explain why these differences exist.

In 2000, Fischler and Maggy Bieulac-Scott, the director of OCHA—which underwrote the project—conceived of an international comparative study on attitudes regarding health, food, and the body. Fischler is a sociologist and director of research at the CNRS. His co-author, Masson, is a Lecturer in Social Psychology at the University of Brest. Besides in France and the United States, research was also conducted in Italy, Switzerland, Germany and Great Britain. Between 2000 and 2002, the assembled team of researchers (each country had a designated colleague who helped to organize and run focus groups in their respective countries) questioned a combined total of 7000 subjects who were asked to articulate their thoughts on food in general, paying particular attention to their contemporary food reality, and how they viewed the relationship between their own bodies and their health. Before completing their study, Masson, Fischler, and their research team postulated that though some attitudes in regards to food might be universal, the exposed differences could explain why rates of obesity, for example, differ country to country, culture to culture. The summary of their results constitutes the first half of the book. The second half is composed of one chapter from each member of the collaborative team based on the data collected from their particular country of study. Their combined effort was published in France in January 2008.

Although data were collected in several different countries, the marked difference between the Anglo-Saxon eating culture and the Continental European one is most often illustrated by the juxtaposition of France and the United States. For the French, eating is presented as a ceremonial, sacred, and shared [End Page 479...


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pp. 478-481
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