The pressure to be so French

I’m gonna keep on writing a bit on the differences between France and other countries. But this time, it’s not about veganism. It’s about the pressure to look good. I had already touched upon these topics here and there.

The more I live abroad, the more I can see clearly what makes France so typically French, and why it’s often seen as such an attractive country. French culture is very strong. It’s such a diverse country geographically speaking, yet somewhat culturally homogeneous for the size. Food is important, art is important, fashion, love, freedom are important, in ways often pervasive through society and difficult to recognize while you’re part of it. For example, I had never understood why Paris was seen as the city of love until I went abroad and noticed that Public Demonstrations of Affection (or PDAs, which at the time I didn’t even know there was a word for!) such as couples holding hands or kissing on the street, which were typical for me, were weird or even frown upon in other countries. Oh cultural norms! The main critic I will always bear towards Frenchies is their pride, for except perhaps Americans and Italians, I have never met people so proud of their countries. Now, there are many reasons to be proud of France, and I am proud of my country, but I often think it crosses borders when it becomes such a strong part of your identity that you can’t talk about anything else.

Anyways as usual I am diverging. I was going to talk about body image, specifically concerning women. I recently talked to a couple of people about what you’re expected to look like as a woman in France compared to other european countries. If you’re at least a tiny bit into fashion, you might have heard of the term “effortless chic”. Well, as a French woman, the ideal is for you to be “effortlessly thin”.

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Exemple case number 1 : Charlotte Gainsbourg, effortlessly chic and thin

This involves two parts: first, that you should eat everything. If you’re going to the restaurant, you should eat bread with butter while waiting for your starter, have a three course meal with wine, and coffee with sugar to finish. Secondly, you should not do sports, except maybe dance or gymnastics. You wouldn’t want to be muscular (= unfeminine)!

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Exemple case number 2 : Audrey Tautou

So, you ask, how does this work? You should be slim or better thin, eat everything and not do sports? It sounds impossible! And you’re right, it pretty much is. I’m sure you’ve heard before of CICO (Calories In, Calories Out): if your calorific expenditure is lower than your calorific intake, you will put on weight. If it’s the reverse, you will lose weight, and if they’re equal, you will stay put. You’ve probably also heard that muscle mass burns more calories than fat tissues, so an even weight of muscle vs fat will not burn the same amount of calories. This means that if you’re the same weight but have a different percentage of muscle you will not burn the same amount of calories at rest. And of course, the best way to build muscle is to use them, a.k.a. do sports. So these “effortlessly thin” simply doesn’t work.

Why, you ask, is it that most French women still look so lean?

First, this is rapidly changing. France, like other developped countries, has an increasing number of overweight and obese people, as obesity levels doubled between 1995 and 2004. So it’s pretty much a myth that French women don’t get fat. But let’s dig in a bit more, the French women who do, how do they do it? I’m not going to talk about eating disorders (even though France ranked second amongst european countries for rates of anorexia in 2012), but about things I’ve seen many of my friends do through the years. Some are positive life choices, others not so much. I’m not advocating you do what they do, just telling you how they do it. Here we go:

  1. They walk. Walking is not considered as exercice, and cities are easily walkable. Furthermore, the Sunday post-meal walk is somewhat of a tradition, as it is seen as very healthy to walk in nature, whether it is a park, the seaside, or a mountain.
  2. They take time to eat. When I was studying, we were always complaining that the one-hour lunch breaks were too short because we didn’t really have time to eat properly (we had around 30 minutes sat-down time once you count going to the university restaurant and queuing for the food).
  3. They skip meals. If you’re gonna induldge during your meals, skipping one efficiently cuts down the amount of calories you’re eating in a day.
  4. To help with not feeling hungry because of point 3, they smoke and/or drink a lot of water. Both help cutting through the feeling of hunger. Interesting article on France and smoking.

Overall, many French women are unhappy with their weight and their looks. When I was living in France, I was one of them. I would never be caught out of my appartment without make up or unfashionable clothes. It tooks a few years of living in the Netherlands (where what you should look like is very different, but that’s for another post) and yoga practice until I found myself happy with my looks, and I often stop and reflect at how happy I am with my body. It might sound conceited, but for me, after years of struggling with body image, it’s simply noticing how much brain space has been freed from not thinking about what I look like, how I could look better, and what people on the street think of me.

Not me, but one of the things I enjoy the most is cycling with bare legs. Especially the first time after winter, when the wind still feels quite cold ❤

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Being a gluten-free vegan in France

I’m back home to my parents’ for 20 days. I usually never stay home that long anymore, but since I’m about to move to the other side of the ocean, and I won’t be there for Christmas for the first time ever, I decided to spend some quality time with my parents. I was also hoping to go swimming at the beach, but so far the weather hasn’t been very compliant…

Veganism in France is still pretty much seen as a thing crazy malnourished hippies do. The culture is so centered around food, and the food so centered around animal products, that being vegan pretty much prevents you from going out to the restaurant, unless you are in Paris. Since I also can’t have bread, it gets very difficult to eat out. I often joke that my French citizenship was revoked the day I got diagnosed with a dairy and gluten allergy : “Quoi, tu ne peux pas manger de pain-beurre-fromage?!“.

That said, I was happily suprised to see many more vegetarian options both in restaurants and supermarkets, and I was even floored to find FIVE different types of vegan spreading cheezes at the supermarket in my small hometown’s supermarket. I wasn’t convinced at first, but the one I tried was actually really good.

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Interestingly, I thought this cheeze tasted a lot like… saucisson. Guessing because of the garlic and pepper combo. Note the pun “tartine et moi” (bread slice and me) “tartinez-moi” (spread me). Puns are a national sport in France. 

That said, I cook most of my meals from scratch at home. I’ve noticed that my parents are getting a bit more curious about what I eat, I guess since they realize it’s not a phase and they know how much I love to cook and eat. However they stay so very French in that trying non-French cuisine at a restaurant is impossible. I made this mistake recently when they were visiting me and I brought them to a non-vegan restaurant which I thought could catter both to their taste and mine. Having them choose something on the menu wasn’t easy… they ended up eating the first hamburger of their lives (yes, a classical one with meat). I guess this was a good reminder that people around the world eat very differently, but this is also quite comical when you know my dad travelled all through the middle-east in the seventies and had to eat snake and lamb’s eyes.

 

In any case, I feel that times are changing and veganism is becoming more mainstream in France too. Hopefully the health and environmental messages are reaching more “omnis” who are reducing their animal product intake. I do think that my parents have reduced their intake, but in any case I can see that my brothers and friends are definitely more open-minded about not eating animal products, and even regularly choose the vegetarian option – with no intention however to stop eating meat, at least for now. When I see how far I’ve come and how the environment in France is changing, I am hopeful for the future of veganism. Cause if veganism gains the strength to become somewhat mainstream in France, if vegan options are available in supermarkets and restaurants like in the US, there will be no excuse not to at least try to be vegan.

 

 

 

2 years!

I can’t believe it’s already been two years since the experiment. I don’t think when I started, I ever imagined it would turn out into a permanent thing. Now I can’t imagine going back to eating meat!

So, what changed during the past two years?

I read. A lot. I informed myself about the different reasons to be vegan, and I realized that I was lying to myself. Even though I care a lot about the environment (see below), I am an ethical vegan. I recently came to this conclusion, partly after watching many of Unnatural Vegan videos, but also reflecting on my feelings towards animals (even though there is evidence that it can be healthy and in some cases environmentally neutral to incorporate some animal products into one’s diet, I would not do it) and reading this interesting piece on vegetarianism and the yoga sutras of Patanjali (please let me know if you cannot access the article).

People started to ask me questions about veganism, and I am slowly openning up to the idea of being an “activist”. At least with friends, I am ok explaining why I am vegan, and also not having all the answers. Planting a seed and sometimes admitting I’m not perfect has its role in promoting veganism, if only for making it more accessible and not-all-vegans-are-assholes. #leadbyexample? Interestingly, I’m the only vegan I know. And I used to think vegans were crazy, so I can relate to non-vegans. Arguing is getting easier as I get more informed, and I have to give a shoutout to r/vegan for its very well maintained wiki. I once too thought that animals were mistreated only in the US, that no harm was done to dairy cows and free-range chickens. And back in 2011 when I watched Earthlings (don’t you love that it’s classified as horror/documentary?!) for the first time, I got easily convinced to eat animals again “because you can’t survive without animals products”. Worst is, I totally believed it. But I know better now,  and I also know to do my research on pretty much any claim before taking a decision.

Which leads me to: making better decisions as a consumer. To reduce the harm I create, both to animals and to the environment. What am I doing about that?

I started looking into the zero waste movement. I replaced my plastic toothbrush with a bamboo humblebrush. I was already using a menstrual cup, but I’m trying to switch most of my other beauty products to plastic-free ones (think soap bars and homemade deodorant – I used to use coconut oil only, but it’s not strong enough for me). I’m planning to buy a safety razor when I’m done using the plastic ones I have. I stopped using plastic bags or plastic-wrapped fruits and veggies, am planning to start bulk-shopping, and near-stopped buying organic products once I realized that:

1) they’re not pesticide-free

2) they’re not vegan

3) they’re often not better for the environment

4) organic produce is almost always wrapped in plastic!

Ideally, I would grow my own veggies in my garden, but yeah, this is not gonna happen before a while. Even though I moved to a place which has a small garden with a compost bin, and I’m very happy to finally be able to compost most of my waste since I eat mainly whole foods!

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Illustration by Maddie Bright

Generally I’m trying to be more conscious of anything I’m buying and limit what I do buy. Do I really need it? Can I buy it second-hand? What about fairtrade / slave-free / etc? (I got a Fairphone 2). Food-wise, I sometimes have to make “hard” choices. I’m already very limited between allergies and veganism, so sometimes I will by a gluten-free vegan good that contains palm oil. Because my mental health is also important 😉

Alright I think that’s all for now, if you have advice and/or questions please leave them in the comments below, I’d be happy to hear what you do to limit your impact on this planet 🙂

The weird things you know about your body

My pelvis has a tendency to be displaced easily. The first time it happened was likely years ago, when I fell down the stairs at my uncle’s place, and ended up on my tailbone. I initially thought I had only a superficial bruise and deemed myself very lucky not to have broken my coccyx.

At the time, I was taking the pill, and when my period would be painful, I would put it as a side effect of the magical drug. But at some point I started going to the osteopath, and he told me my pelvis was displaced. Once he put it back in place, I stopped having period pain, and I will forever be grateful to him for that. I didn’t use to have period pain when I started getting my period as a teenager. However, when I started contraception, pain came along, and it’s just one of the things that you somehow taught is normal to have as a woman and so do not worry about.

Fast forward a couple of years further. Not taking any more contraception, I end up displacing my pelvis in a yoga class. Notwithstanding the immediate pain which signaled me that something had gone wrong, the best indicator I had that my pelvis had been displaced and stayed that way was when my next period came, and I thought I was going to die from the intensity of the stomach ache. I immediately recognized the old pattern. I initially tried to replace it on my own with yoga, but though it helped, it didn’t work completely. I thus had the choice between  waiting until I could get back to France to see my osteopath, or finding another one in the Netherlands. The thought of going through two more very painful periods convinced me to get an appointment here, and a very funny appointment it was. Apparently, osteopaths are not used to patients coming in and telling them that they displaced their pelvis and that the sacroiliac (SI) joint is compressed on their right side.

Anyhow, my new osteopath put my pelvis back in place, and the pain receded. However, one or two days right before I get my period, I will always start feeling my right SI. I’m so used to it that it acts as a reminder that I should sterilize my menstrual cup if I haven’t already, and put it in my bag.

What are the weird things you know about your body, and that you would have to brief a stranger on if you ever magically exchanged bodies?

The V-word

I’m a vegan. Here it goes, I said it. It’s hard for me to say, for fear of the reactions people around me have when I say it.

Recently, someone I know posted on FB that they were anti-vegan. It hurts. And there is no good response. If I intervene and say “Hey, so you… want to see more suffering? that’s what you mean by “you’re anti-vegan”?” I’ll be seen as preachy, just because I identify as vegan. But that’s all it means, being vegan, is consciously making better decisions to reduce suffering.

“Veganism is a way of living that seeks to exclude, as far as possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing and any other purpose.” – The Vegan Society

NB: Humans are animals too, so this includes slave labor etc.

Everyday, you make hundreds of choices. In an ideal world, for all of these choices you make you would have all the information you need and all the necessary time so that you can make the best choice. Obviously, this not the case, and we make most choices out of habit and convenience. If you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place, nobody will judge you because you choose either option. But most days, you have the power to make a better choice and reduce suffering, and if you consistently make take choice, in my book you’re a vegan.

So with this definition, you can be a vegan and eat meat, as long as you’re trying to reduce your consumption. Yes, this will be a controversial point of view, and I’m certainly not saying that the poor cow or chicken did not suffer during its life and death being “raised” for food. In my opinion it’s better not to eat meat than to eat meat, because it’s a direct way you, as a consumer, have power to reduce your impact on Earth.

But I was born and raised in France. Culturally, eating meat is an entire part of the French cuisine and by extension, lifestyle. I was raised, like most people, with the idea that animal products were healthy and even necessary for survival, and only crazy people would be vegan (since it is unnatural and you would have to be unhealthy). So I ate meat, and let’s be honest, for most people, meat tastes good. It’s convenient to eat. But is convenience and taste a good enough reason for the environmental havoc it is creating, the suffering it brings to farm animals, notwithstanding your arteries and your waist?

It took a long time for me to stop eating meat. Information about factory farm, like Earthlings, the impact of meat eating on the environment, like Cowspiracy, and other documentaries about the health aspects like Fork over knives and many others, slowly changed my mind. Information is power. However, it took me a while. I got diagnosed with  gluten and dairy allergy, so I had to eliminate those first. When that was done, I slowly started reducing my meat and fish intake, not buying any for home but eating it if there were no other options at a restaurant or a friend’s place. I had to learn how to plan and propose to bring food when I travel or am invited. I am still viewed as an extremist, when all I want is literally to do no harm, or at least as little as possible.

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Being vegan in the US is so easy. Lots of convenience food, options in restaurants everywhere… Definitely not as easy in Europe. But getting there. I try to lead by example, showing that I am not craving any foods because I can always make a vegan version of it, being very active and healthy so that nobody contests the fact that being vegan is healthy. Of course, you should pay attention to your B12 levels, but then again I believe vegans are asked about their health so often that they have to be healthier than meat-eaters, who often do not care about their diets and think they eat healthy without actually ever checking (beware, this is a generalization!).

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It’s not always easy to know what is the best option for all of these choices we have to do everyday. For example, I sent some shoes I had (from before I went vegan, so leather) to get repaired. I love these shoes, and I thought this was the best option – repairing rather than buying new ones would be both cheaper and better for the environment. However, what I did not realize until I got the shoes back, is that since the lining of the shoe was in leather, the shoemaker used leather to repair them. It was too late when I got them back to change anything, but I don’t know what I would have done if I had realized this before.

Other of my difficult choices include products which use palm oil (extremely bad for the environment), gluten-free breads that contain eggs (I usually don’t buy them anymore but it’s hard…), clothing (what about sweatshops and human exploitation?), and so many. Still, I try to inform myself to make better choices each time. I’m not perfect. I will never be. But I can strive for self-improvement and make a better choice than the previous one. That’s what veganism is all about for me.

Conclusion? Inform yourself (especially if you claim to be a scientist!), and maybe you’ll end up becoming a vegan too!

In the same spirit:

So, I’m just gonna leave this link here in case you decided you want to learn more; you’ll see links to some of the movies I referenced (and some more here in case you think it’s different in your own country, I know it is an argument I used to have), Vegan Sidekick in case you have very logic arguments against veganism (don’t think they’re original, we’ve heard it all before ;)). I highly recommend Happy Cow to find out nice restaurants (also linked). And of course, you can always reach out to me or any other vegan friend you might have, I’m sure they will be more than happy to help you transition to veganism or answer any questions you might have!

Brand sustainibility check: https://rankabrand.org/home/what-we-do

Some cool vegan youtube channels and blogs if you’re looking for ideas:

https://www.youtube.com/user/hotforfoodblog ❤

https://www.youtube.com/user/rawvegannotgross/videos ❤

http://veganheaven.org/

http://accidentallycrunchy.com/

http://www.twocityvegans.com/

http://cookieandkate.com/

http://minimalistbaker.com/ ❤

http://www.unconventionalbaker.com/

 

Veg’anniversary

I can’t believe it’s been a full year since I became a vegetarian, first as a month-long experiment which ended by being fully integrated into my lifestyle. It’s time for an assessment.

Original blog post of the experiment

So, what happened meanwhile?

  • It wasn’t nearly as hard as I originally thought it would. I was already not eating much meat/fish, so the home transition was easy peasy. I only need a little bit more planning when I am eating out.
  • I had “the talk” with my parents (understand: mom). It ended up with the disloyal “I wonder what your grandparents would have thought” to which I answered that they’re not here anymore so it definitely doesn’t harm them. And though she does not understand my choice, she respects it, and that’s good enough for me. It’s weird for me that she keeps on telling me what type of meat she has been cooking, but I just nod and keep going. I cook for myself when I’m home, and I cook a full vegetarian meal for the whole family once or twice during the few days I’m there.
    My (older) brothers are more understanding, but still question some of my choices, like not eating seafood. However, they are trying to reduce their consumption and eat vegetarian once in awhile, so they don’t feel culturally attacked like my parents.
  • I still kind of like the smell of meat, but it seems very strange for me that people eat it.
  • I’ve started reducing my consumption of eggs as well. I don’t have anything about consuming eggs per se, if they were coming from happy chicks in my garden, but knowing that male chicks get grounded alive and the remaining female are debeaked makes me want to throw up. Since I can’t watch a video like this without hiding my eyes, I decided I should do something about it:
  • Talking about which, I once again had the realization of how many eggs are in everything! I remember when I got diagnosed with a milk (casein) allergy, I realized that I was eating SO MANY milk products in a day and I had no idea. Now that I’m paying attention to eggs, same old same old. Many prepared products such as pasta, bread, puff pastry, or even QUORN, contain eggs.
  • I got an omni, flexitarian boyfriend, who happily eats whatever I cook (and is actually hooked on coconut bacon)  but will still order meat from time to time if we eat out. I want to watch Earthlings again (I watched it way back in 2010, five years (!) before I finally acted on it, which shows how strong peer pressure can be) and he said he would watch it with me.
  • I bought my very first vegan bags from Matt&Nat. I might as well vote with my money and support brands who make a clear effort toward sustainability (and cool designs!).
  • I still have issues talking about my choices. Even though I feel much better since I am living accordingly to my principles, I have issues advocating the vegan lifestyle. Yes, I know it tastes good, no, I still don’t want to try it. You do you, I do me.
    I find it problematic because many people are misinformed and may potentially change their mind upon being provided with new information about the food they eat.
    On the other hand, few people are genuinely interested in what I have to say, the large majority just wants to hear that it’s great I’m doing this but it wouldn’t work for them (best case scenario) or that I’m stupid (because I’m not eating meat so I’m deficient) and what I’m doing is stupid, and do I really need to be this dogmatic?
  • The opposition veganism gets from people still astonishes me. Even when I wasn’t vegetarian, it never crossed my mind to attack people who would not eat meat. After all, veganism is all about reducing suffering as much as possible, whether it is the planet, animals or humans. However, I see in my surroundings that some people have really strong, gut-wrenching reactions to a simple proposal of going to a vegan event. Said people, however, enjoy the animal-free food I cook…
  • But there’s progress! More people, sometimes the least expected friends, diminish their meat consumption and/or try food I bring to a meat-heavy barbecue. Hopefully, by showing that I can enjoy a meat-free life and have delicious food nonetheless, I help bringing meat consumption down.

Oh, and if you’re wondering how I celebrated, well  I made my first jackfruit pulled “pork” recipe, nice burgers with horseradish and pickles ❤

Of body image, judgement & happiness

In what seems to be a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, I used to care quite a lot about looks. Now you may say it sounds shallow, and it certainly is; however I do not know anyone who at least during their teenage years did not care about what they looked like (usually: not like what they wished they would).

My mother is a beautiful, slim, elegant woman. She incarnates the whole essence of a French woman. Growing up in her shadow, it was difficult to come after such a role model. Especially when I look a lot like her, except I have a tendency to easily put on weigh and skin problems. I’m pretty much the only one in the family (got the wrong gene combination, apparently. That, or I was brought up when the world was already going wrong nutrition wise). So from the time I started caring about looks, I always felt I was too fat. Even when I wasn’t. I had decided what weigh was the weigh I should be weighing, and I wasn’t weighing it so I was unhappy.

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My mom, incarnated by Scarlet Johanson for a champagne advertisement 😉

 

I was never able to follow a diet after I gained weigh due to the treatments I had for my skin problems in high school (excepting the crash diet I followed in the emergency month before my brother’s wedding: I din’t fit in the dress anymore!). I had gained so much weigh so fast, I was starving myself even with hunger suppressers, and still gaining weigh. I gave up on apples for snacks, low-fat yoghurt and weighing food, and never looked back. Well, except for the apples.

Then came prep class, and while I was eating crap (basically french fries every day), I was so stressed out that I lost weigh. I was happy about it. Funny how a number on a scale can dictate whether you’re gonna be in a good or bad mood.

When I moved to Montpellier, I was deeply unhappy. It turned out that the people at school, with whom I had hope to share at least a common love for science, were mainly interested in going out, getting wasted, hooking up, and/or boasting about how good they were. I was away from friends and family, in an amazing city where, sadly, most people judge books by their cover. Unexpectedly, since you live half naked most of the year and there is such pressure on how you look, I started putting on weigh. I stopped exercising apart from the occasional run and Aikido session once in a while. But no more dancing, which until then had always been a part of my life.

In my second year, my grandmother passed. I left for Germany. My grandfather passed. 2010 was an horrible year. But at least one positive thing happened: I went against my mom. It wasn’t the first time I was opposing my parents; in high school I had a pretty big fight with them after they found out I was taking the pill. My opinion hasn’t changed on the topic, I’d have thought they’d have been happy I was being responsible – but hey, it probably isn’t easy to realize your kid is growing up. Anyhow, I will always remember going shopping with my mom after my bag got lost at the airport because of the snowstorm; she said something like “those trousers will be perfect once you loose a bit of weigh”. I answered “those trousers are perfect now and I’m not planning to lose any weigh”. End of discussion. I stopped weighing myself, and I stopped being unhappy when the number wasn’t the one I wished it would be. I haven’t weighed myself since, so I literally have no idea how much I weigh. My weigh control ever since has been fitting into my favorite jeans 🙂

I’ve already told the tale of how much out of shape I was when I started doing yoga. I was also pretty self-conscious. I would, however, already get rid of my shirt when it would be too warm during the class. I do realize it’s not super common – however, I have never cared and probably never will. I’m boiling people!!!! The only sensible thing to do is to get rid of my shirt. If men are allowed to practice without shirt, I should be able to practice in my sports bra.

There are many an article about starting yoga to get “the yoga body”, the “beach body”, etc etc. Well. If you really want to get that body, I’d argue yoga is probably not the most optimal way to get it. I could have had a much better looking body much quicker with weigh training or HIIT. However, doing yoga has enabled me to genuinely stop caring about what my body looks like, and instead focus on all the amazing things my body can do. My first yoga class was a revelation for that, for the first time in a very long time, I was connecting with my body again, not in terms of what it looked like but in terms of how it felt. And since I started practicing yoga, the answer is usually “pretty great”!

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