The joy of eating


Food, glorious food

So, tell me, Jacq,” said my friend Aude in her Provençal French as she picked at her niçoise salad. “Why is it you North Americans love to eat crap?” I was 21 and had just come to school in Paris with a suitcase full of antiperspirant and Kraft Dinner—two things I knew would be in short supply in France. I told Aude I didn’t know what the hell she was talking about and proceeded to dig my 12th chunk of baguette into a jar of Nutella. “No, really,” she insisted. “All the snacks, the mushy bread, the bland cheese, the white lettuce in sugary dressing—you guys eat like a bunch of kids.” Before I could take offence, I thought back to the overprocessed foods of my childhood that I still loved. And she was right. Thank God for Flintstones vitamins. “Come down to my family’s house in the South and I’ll show you real food,” she said. Of course, I took her up on her offer.

Aude took me to a blond stone house outside of Avignon, cradled in the foothills of the Pyrenees. There, her wild-haired mother lived with a lover 20 years her junior. Under an amber lamp at a weathered table, Aude’s family talked and dined for hours. No one ate in front of the TV. No one was on a plan or in the zone. They just sat together and enjoyed their food.

The landscape of their table was utterly foreign. The lettuce was actually green – deep green—with no Thousand Island dressing in sight. And they had vegetables I had never seen up close: artichoke, asparagus and zucchini. New tastes arrested me: white wine-and-mustard vinaigrette that made my nostrils tingle; fish baked in parchment, drizzled with olive oil and Turkish spices; and heaps of sautèed tomatoes, garlic and zucchini, fragrant with the rosemary that had overtaken Aude’s rocky garden.

I was heady with flavours that hadn’t been doused with sugar and salt or stuffed into a pizza pocket. It felt like tasting food for the first time. And we took the time to taste it. Most remarkable, nobody looked at my plate and said I ate an awful lot for a girl. They just asked if I enjoyed my meal.