(Photo: USDA.gov)

In one of my recent advanced English–conversation courses I used horses and cows as virtual visual aids in an effort to explain what we mean when speaking about “grazing” as it applies to American eating habits. My students were appalled.

They understood grazing, they understood snacking, but they most definitely did not understand how the two concepts intersected.

If snacking is part of a Frenchwoman’s daily diet, which often it is not, it is reasonable, low-calorie, and almost always includes a cup of hot tea—no milk—to quell any hunger pangs that may occur between lunch and dinner at 8 p.m.

As I believe I have mentioned before, even the healthiest of in-between-meal nibbling—like yogurt, for example—is accompanied, when it’s advertised on TV, by a small line running across the bottom of the screen cautioning viewers not to abuse non-meal-associated eating. It’s similar to, though not quite as menacing as, the warnings on alcohol and cigarette labels.

So here, again, is what my students and a few of my friends told me they eat at 4 or 5 o’clock in the afternoon. Out of the 24 women I questioned, five said “nothing,” three said “only hot tea,” and you can read what the others said below. When I asked if they didn’t get hungry from time to time they said yes, but they could wait for dinner.

“Snacks in the afternoon are for children,” one proclaimed. “Not for adults.” (My subjects are between the ages of 40 and 70.)

Edith: Tea and one piece of whole-grain toast, no butter, and a half-teaspoon of homemade jam.

Cristel:  A cappuccino and two squares of dark chocolate. (Remember, a real cappuccino has no whipped cream, just low-fat milk steamed into a frothy mousse.)

Christine: A clementine or any other small, seasonal fruit, like a plum, for example.

Annie: Usually nothing, unless I spend a couple of hours walking in the Rambouillet forest with my dog. When I do, I’m famished and can’t wait for dinner. On those days I eat a Granny’s cereal bar with a cup of tea.

Claire: A small bowl of homemade applesauce—no sugar, of course.

Anne-Françoise: A cup of tea and two slices of a pear or an apple—no skin. (I’ve never understood why the French always peel their fruit.)

Danielle: In the winter, occasionally, a cup of hot chocolate.

Claudie: A café au lait and a plain yogurt.

Françoise: A hard-boiled egg.

Chantal: A large glass of water and a cigarette. (Note: I considered not including this one, but thought it so stereotypically French that I couldn’t resist. Plus, I know it’s true in her case.)

Anne:  Cappuccino Minceur Natural Scientific. “I drank it between meals for three months to help me lose four kilos I gained after a series of parties. It’s miraculous and delicious,” she said.

 Marion: Speculoos spread on a small piece of toasted baguette or a speculoos bisquette with either a glass of water or a cup of coffee. I know I should be eating fruit, but I hate fruit.

Marie-Christine: An espresso and two Thé cookies from LU: “They have the least number of calories and give me the impression I am having a real treat.”

Angelique: At 6 p.m. I have a piece of baguette with cheese and a glass of water.

Marie-Anne: A glass of sparkling water like Perrier with lemon juice and sometimes, in the summer, an iced coffee. When I’m really desperate I might have two or three squares of dark chocolate.

Françoise: Sometimes—but not often—one inch of a baguette. I know I should wait for dinner, but sometimes I “crack.”




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  • BigLittleWolf May 9, 2012 at 7:33 pm

    I love this piece. A bit of contrast with how we’re used to doing things in this country helps us examine what we might do differently.

    “One inch of a baguette.”