20 Jul 2013

America's Obesity & France's Fast-Food Addiction

This past year in Paris, I've been surrounded by slim women, in fact, slim people in general. I don't know how they do it - good genes perhaps? But the image of the slender, elegant Parisian woman holds a lot of truth. And when I'm out there working up a sweat as I jog around the Eiffel Tower, I'm stunned to see that it's mainly men who are exercising, not women. Maybe the women exercise within the comfort of their own home, but I have a feeling that a combination of chain smoking, small portions and good genes are the real reason behind their slim physiques.  And maybe the fact that on every advert there's a health warning. If there's anyone telling you to eat your five portions of fruit and veg a day or not to snack, it's the French.

My first stop this summer on my American adventure was a six hour layover in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Since the layover was so long, we decided to pass the time in the largest mall in America with its very own indoor theme park. And I'll tell you now - it was something else. Or, as I like to say, sumfin' else.

As we wandered around the mall, the sheer size of the people we came across was worrying. Maybe malls are social hubs for overweight people, but I couldn't get my head around it. Fat kids licking ice-creams larger than their heads or people so overweight that they had to be pushed around in wheelchairs because they couldn't walk. At one point, I saw a man sitting on a bench with his XXXXL t-shirt which still didn't fit him and I noticed his leg was purple and swollen. When he got up to move, I felt pain come over me as I saw the large globules of fat bursting out of the back of his knees. Surely that cannot be comfortable. His head looked so small in proportion to the rest of his body that if I'd have seen a photograph of him, I'd have thought he'd been photoshopped.

From beer bellies to muffin tops, I kid you not when I say that 90% of the people we saw were overweight, and many of them clinically obese. In that moment I envisaged a world where everyone was fat; really fat. Where fitness died out and the average person didn't move from their couch because they had everything they needed within their reach. Fridges walked towards them with the click of a remote; people ate and slept in the same seat because they couldn't lift themselves out of it. Automated cranes heaved people from one location to the next.

And another shocking discovery in this mall was the fashion, or lack of it. I know this wasn't Beverley Hills but where the hell is Gok Wan when you need him. Neon trainers and oversized basketball shorts are never a good look. Neither are tight tops which cling painfully over heaving guts, butt cracks on display and cankles: the lack of calf/ankle definition where the two seem to merge.

The root of it? Oh where to begin. Free soda refills in every restaurant, the continual fast-food frenzy, the HUGE portions. I remember on our trip to Alaska a few years ago when I ordered a cooked breakfast. My plate arrived and on it I had about 3 fried eggs, 6 rashers of bacon, 4 sausages....and to top it all off, a stack of four large pancakes on the side covered in lashings of butter and Canadian maple syrup. If that doesn't clog your arteries just thinking about it, then I don't know what will. I think it's safe to say that I didn't even manage a third of it. And even just a few days ago when I went for a single scoop of ice-cream in a cafe, the scoop was so large that it could have easily passed for a triple scoop in the UK where in comparison, the portions seem stingy.

And I'm not kidding when I say that being fat costs you, and not just because of the amount of food you're getting through. Samoa Air for example charges passengers per kilo. Thus, a 60kg person will be paying a much lighter airfare than the 120kg person sitting across the aisle.  Fancy a future where along with baggage, passengers also have to hit the scales to determine their airfare. And before people start getting sensitive over the issue, "Every extra kilogram means more expensive jet fuel must be burned, which leads to CO2 emissions and financial cost" according to Dr Ian Yeoman.  

The sad reality is that the fast-food frenzy has made its way to France, too. A recent survey showed that more French people go out for fast-food than to your typical French cafe or bistro. The shocking discovery shows that 54% of all restaurant sales in France comes from fast-food chains. Part of me is not surprised at all; many (male) colleagues at work spend 4 out of 5 lunches a week at McDonalds, and don't bat an eyelid. For the country which gave the world "gastronomie", things aren't looking too great. In fact, reports have shown that after the U.S., France is the largest consumer of fast-food. But the pressing question is: How do the French stay so slim?

I appreciate that certain medical conditions mean that being overweight is not a choice. But I'd be very surprised to hear that all 75% of overweight individuals in the U.S. suffer from medical conditions which mean that being overweight is uncontrollable.

Now, would someone please go get me a corn dog with extra mayo, a side of fries and a large soda.  I'm starving. 

15 Jul 2013

Giverny and Monet's Water Lilies

So a few weekends ago (yes, I'm a little *en retard in writing this), I went to Giverny, the former home of French Impressionist painter Claude Monet.  I could have just called him Monet but after a colleague in Paris asked me who exactly this Monet was, I felt that I should be a little more lucid, in case any of you confused him with the 21st century child rapper Chi Chi Monet. FYI, no relation.

Giverny is located 50 miles outside of Paris in Haute-Normandy and is accessible by train to Vernon followed by a one hour trail walk or 3€ shuttle bus. We picked up some treats from the bakery for lunch before making our way. It was boiling that day which called for factor 50+ suncream and a hat but I don't own the latter so had to make do with rubbing suncream into my scalp. A greasy affair.

The trail was nice in the sunshine, albeit a little long and monotonous, and after an hour we were entering the picturesque village of Giverny. The whole village was blooming with brightly coloured flowers and green; so much green. Quaint houses were hidden by charming gates and mini stone facades. It all seemed so mystical and I cherished the sweet chirping of birds and fragrant scent of roses. So much beauty in one place.

We couldn't have come at a better time of year.  It was none other than breathtaking as we walked down the rows of flowers of every colour imaginable. I drew my camera up to the buds but the end result could not even begin to capture what I beheld.

We followed the garden down into a small underpass which opened up into the pond. THE pond, with water lilies galore and an abandoned wooden boat which must have been used once upon a time when its owner came out to paint the ladies amongst the water lilies. We crossed a bridge and tiptoed through the gorgeous melange of forest green and vibrant purples, pinks and oranges. Delicate petals, as white as they were pure, clouded together to create a hanging bouquet over the water's surface. Large fish swam lazily through the murky water, just clear enough to see their dark shapes easing through the pond.  
We sidled up to Le Pont Japonais. It really was picture perfect with the branches hanging like a veil of green over the painted green bridge. A large weeping willow stood imposingly on the opposite side of the pond, its gallant arms sulking towards the water. I could see so easily the inspiration this place evoked.

We then entered Monet's house.  I was initially surprised by his obsession with Japanese art - the endless engravings; the walls were covered.  I had felt an immense curiosity to go inside and explore the world of such a renowned artist; to feel an essence of his being which he has undoubtedly left behind. It had such a magical air about it, as if living there would be like living on the pages of a storybook, much like the village itself which seemed so bite-sized; so mignon. I suppose I was charmed by its winding streets and sweeping landscape views, its sereneness and its ability to let your imagination paddle with the water lilies and never look back.

A definite must.

*late in French, not retarded

9 Jul 2013

Katie Hopkins: The Snob Who'd Hate Me

It's not often that I stare at my laptop and actually scream in outrage (apart from during an overly tense episode of some trashy TV series).  That said, I'm known for being a tad dramatic - scrap that - highly dramatic when it comes to crossing the road without looking (I do this a lot), being tickled or watching Rafael Nadal play tennis.

It may come as no surprise therefore that whilst watching the hugely hyped interview on ITV's This Morning between controversial social commentator and journalist Katie Hopkins and Holly Willoughby, I was choking on my own saliva. On more than one occasion I had to pause the youtube video and divert my thoughts to a slightly mundane Facebook newsfeed to shake away the contempt towards this woman which was mounting inside of me.

Let's get to the crux of the issue: Hopkins bases who her children are allowed to play with solely on the child's name.  Why?  Because apparently the Tylers, Brandons, Ashlees, Charmains and Chardonnays of this world are working class children who aren't fit to wine and dine with her own league-above-the-rest offspring.  And not only that - a boy with a name like Tyler never does his homework, spends class-time being disruptive and beats up children in the playground.  Such is the way in Hopkins' shallow universe. In a nutshell, her remarks are so unfounded, so excessive and so ignorant that I can't even take offense.

One of the "name categories" she sneered at and labeled unfit for playdates was geograpahical locations (ironic that her own daughter is called India).  Being called Montana then, I guess I'm screwed.  Although maybe I'd beg at my knees and insist that rather than the American state, I was actually named after the New Zealand wine company (then again, she hates the Chardonnays of this world, so I suppose being named after wine wouldn't improve my situation!)  Or perhaps I'd go for the the protagonist from the 1983 film Scarface, or, God forbid it, Hannah Montana (despite her being a year my junior.)   Oh wait, she hates celebrity names too.  That includes Gwyneth Paltrow's daughter's name: Apple.  So I suppose that also cancels out "food" names.  There's a chocolate bar called Montana and I recently discovered a Montana bagel in a cafe too.  I'm really not doing too well at this game. Oh, and why not hate on the gingers too: "Ginger babies. Like a baby. Just so much harder to love." I really am doomed for failure in the Katie Hopkins survival-of-the-fittest guide.  And does the fact that my Dad is American make it all the more worse?  She's clearly scared of anything mildly exotic.

Wait, just wait! Her daughter is called Poppy and there's a Clematis called Montana - a vigorous climbing plant. *Dances around wildly*.  There is hope!

On a slightly different note; one thing being abroad in Paris has reminded me is that socialising with people from other backgrounds, nationalities, classes, cultures, religions - however you want to divide them - is one of the most fuelling and enriching things you can experience.  Katie insists that fast-tracking  - culling people with certain names from your social circles - is a quick way to avoid spending time with people who will be detrimental to your environment and success.  But why the desperate need to take a (what I would argue counterproductive) short cut? Life is short which is why young people should make the most of enriching rather than limiting their social circles.  After all, no-one comes in or leaves the world less equal to the next. Whether they're called Chardonnay or Matilda.