“It’s a beautiful legend”, says Nicolas. “It’s seen as a way to detox. You boil the leek and you only have the water.
Normally the soup is eaten for a maximum of two days and often before a special event, says Jacqueline Dutton, professor of French studies at the University of Melbourne.
“There is a great fear of becoming fat in France.”
Professor Jacqueline Dutton
“It’s been around forever,” Dutton says. “It’s the idea of having a flat stomach and starting a new diet.”
But how does this mesh with the indulgent narrative that has been built on French food? As Dutton explains, the outward notions of French food culture are based on a “historical mythology” that everyone in France enjoys eating. And while it is true that there is pleasure, pleasure takes many forms.
“Small portions, longer meals, greater diversity in the meal, attention to anticipation and planning, and conversation during and after the meal are all as important as the food itself,” she says.
But underpinning that is something more concerning, says Dutton. Obesity is stigmatized throughout the West but in France, the pressure to be thin is even more amplified.
“There’s a big fear of getting big in France,” says Dutton. “There is clear discrimination against people who are overweight or obese. Fatphobia – or fatphobia – is very present in French society for both men and women.
The obesity rate in France, although constantly increasing, remains low. One in six French people is obese, compared to one in three Australians.
A 2012 French study found that two-thirds of women and half of men wanted to lose weight, even when they had a healthy BMI. “Almost everyone is constantly thinking about what they’re eating,” Dutton says. “So there’s pleasure in eating, but there’s also anxiety around the results of eating.”
Nicolas, who has spent the past seven years in his home country before returning to Australia in November, says the fear of gaining weight is ingrained among women and girls in particular.
“[French women] having this image of being skinny and… sometimes I wonder if we’re not creating insecurities,” she says. “As we are very small, we are afraid of gaining weight, and that is terrible.”
There is a famous phrase written by French foodie Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin: “Tell me what you eat, and I’ll tell you who you are.” Dutton says it’s part of the French psyche: “This idea of being thin means that… ‘we appreciate, but don’t exaggerate’.”
There’s a fine line between healthy and unhealthy – we see it in Australia, where an obsession with healthy eating and a fit body is at the root of some eating disorders – and the magic leek soup “secret speaks directly to a quiet level of food restriction that can occur in France when people try to fit into the “naturally” slim mold.
But progress is being made. Anti-sizeism events were organized by the city of Paris after French writer Gabrielle Deydier published a book in 2017, On Not Born Fat (“You Are Not Born Fat”), describing his experience of discrimination at work, in the healthcare system and in everyday interactions.
France also introduced legislation in 2017 to help tackle eating disorders and unrealistic ideals of beauty by banning unhealthy fashion models and forcing commercial photos where bodies have been altered to be labeled as such. , with the words “retouched photograph” (“retouched photo”).
When the magic leek soup is offered in Emily in Paris, Emily protests the idea and compares it to something “Gwyneth [Paltrow] would push on Goop”.
“That sounds so bad to you,” Emily said. “I just don’t think we should promote weight-loss cures. Fad diets are really dangerous.
This reaction makes sense in the context of the insidious Western food culture that places thinness above health. In that sense, Emily is right, says Dutton, but she points out that there is another context that the show fails to explore.
“It could be interpreted as a fad and fast diet, as Emily interprets it. But it could also be interpreted in its natural habitat, as part of a long tradition…and very much related to the idea of prioritizing vegetables in your diet long-term,” says Dutton.
“We like to take the time to go to the markets, to choose our vegetables, to choose our meats, which must come from [producers] we know.”
Dr. Evangeline Mantzioris, registered dietitian and nutrition scientist at the University of South Australia, explains that leeks have a diuretic effect, which means they can increase the elimination of water from the body. So most of the time, people who drink magic leek soup would see water loss, she says, but it’s true that two days of that would also cause fat loss.
Mantzioris says that while it sounds like a fasting diet, people who subscribe to the 5:2 likely still have more kilojoules on fasting days.
She doesn’t recommend Aussies try 48 Hours of Leek Magic Soup – pointing out she has celery juice whispers and the lemon detox diet – but adds ‘that’s what you do most of the time who counts “.
“If you’re eating soup every weekend because you’re on a crap diet during the week, then that’s the real problem,” Mantzioris says. “But if it’s once every two months, or [if you’re French] you might do it out of nostalgia… Ultimately, if you’re only doing it for two days, it’s not like you’re doing it continuously.
University of Sydney obesity expert Dr. Nick Fuller also doesn’t advise giving the magic leek soup a quick try.
“Fasting diets are very attractive right now,” says Fuller. “These are just fancy ways to cut calories from your diet, and from a weight loss perspective, they’re not the answer. The answer is to form habits that last a lifetime.
Although it might be better not to import magic leek soup, it are things we can learn from French food culture. Fuller says small portions and valuing the social connectedness of food are two important ones.
Mantzioris is a believer in respect for the preparation and quality of food, as well as pleasure. “I think that’s a really important message,” she said. “We need to eat foods we enjoy and respect the processes behind them.”
This resonates with Nicolas, who misses the abundance of markets in France, usually filled with organic produce.
“We like to take the time to go to the markets, to choose our vegetables, to choose our meats, which must come from [producers] we know,” says Nicolas. “There is a very strong concern about the origin of the food.”
Nicolas says that while French cuisine can be rich in butter and cream, the daily diet is often much simpler, focused on fresh produce and less sugar and processed foods than the Australian diet. “We eat a lot of vegetables. More than here.
She adds that the French aren’t big nibblers either: “We don’t eat between meals.
But it is not surprising that Emily in Paris missed all the good parts of French food culture. As Nicolas says of the show: “It’s funny for us because it’s a caricature.”
Get the most out of your health, relationships, fitness and nutrition with our Live Well newsletter. Receive it in your mailbox every Monday.