Blame It On The Puritans

- POSTED ON: May 21, 2011



Anne Barone's description of growing up in the 1950s mirrors my own experience,
and I am very entertained by her Puritan vs. French comparison.

"Blame it on the Puritans.
If you wonder why the French, the most food-obsessed people on the planet,
can eat all that cream, butter, and egg yolks and struggle far less with excess weight
than Americans who dutifully take home shopping bags of sugarless and fat-free,
the answer is: the Puritans.

The French never had any; the Americans did.
The French had Joan of Arc, Napoleon Bonaparte,
Charles de Gaulle, and Brigitte Bardot.

But no Puritans.

Back in 1620 when the Puritans stepped off the Mayflower,
they brought with them the intellectual baggage that if something feels good
and makes us happy, it is bad. Discomfort and sacrifice are good.
The more uncomfortable and unpleasurable something is, the Puritans thought,
the better for you. Of course this Puritan philosophy grew out of strong religious conviction.

The French were also religious -- in their own fashion.
When they wanted to give thanks to God, they built -- by hand, no less --
huge, architecturally magnificent Gothic cathedrals. The construction of Chartres,
no doubt, burned more calories than all the Jane Fonda workout videos ever sold.

For Thanksgiving, the American Puritans fixed a big dinner and ate it.
Our annual reenactment of this feast kicks off that part of the year
when the average American gains six pounds.

The Puritan legacy was still strong three centuries later
when I was growing up in the 1950s.
In that small Bible Belt town, drinking alcohol was a sin, smoking was a sin,
playing cards was sin, dancing was a sin, and going to the movies was a sin.
Any effort to improve your appearance was viewed with suspicion.
Once I arrived at a friend's house to find her grandmother in a rage.
Pointing a damning finger, she demanded, "What do you think about
a girl who would go against the will of God?"
My friend, it turned out, had straightened her naturally curly hair.

In that Bible Belt milieu, sex outside marriage put you on the fast track to Hell.
As for sex in marriage, you weren't supposed to enjoy it.
The only sanctioned pleasurable activity was eating.
I have witnessed church family night dinners that were food orgies

that would have shocked the un-Puritanical French right out of their socks.

The French seek equal pleasure in a well-prepared meal as in a session of
passionate lovemaking. Actually the French favor alternating one with the other.

But everything in moderation.
The French, after all, coined the phrase "la douceur de vivre, the sweetness of living".
Americans coined the phrase "No pain, no gain."
The way this works, you go through the pain of dieting.
Then you gain it all back.


In recent decades American Puritanism has undergone an evolution.
Activities no longer prohibited for religious or moral reasons,
are now on the no-no list as unhealthy. This has given the Puritan mentality
an in-road to spoiling our previously okay pleasure in eating. The rules are simple:
Anything that tastes good, like grilled steak, cheese enchiladas, fresh-brewed coffee,
or Key lime pie, are poisons, guaranteed to kill us. Foods such as tofu, bean sprouts,
and plain low-fat yogurt are cure-alls promised to put the medical profession
out of business and make us all live to 110.

Most new products the food industry has put on the shelves recently carry some
(mostly overhyped) health claim. And whatever the fad health food,
they add it to everything. During the oat bran craze about the only products
on the supermarket shelf without this gritty little addition was laundry detergent
and disposable diapers.

These Nouveux Puritans have studies to back up their claims.
But my faith in "studies" is weak. I remember one study that concluded that
wearing lipstick caused cancer. However, to ingest as much lipstick as they had
pumped into those poor little research mice, a human had to eat 90 tubes of lipstick per day!

Across the Atlantic the French hear the results of the American Nouveux Puritan
food studies, pause a moment from eating their pate de fois gras, cut a bite of bifteck,
sip their Beaujolais, and contemplate the cheese tray as they shrug and say,
"Il sont fous, ces Americains. They're crazy, those Americans."

I first became aware of this quote from the book Chic & Sllm (2001) by Anne Barone
several years ago when it was posted by wones, who is active in the No S Diet forum,
and is also registered here at DietHobby.

Leave me a comment.

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Existing Comments:

On May 21, 2011 wosnes wrote:
Glad you enjoyed it. I think it's so true.

On May 21, 2011 Dr. Collins wrote:
             wosnes, Thanks so much for sharing this interesting quote.

On May 23, 2011 Dr. Collins wrote:
This really is true.

On May 23, 2011 Dr. Collins wrote:
             Irene, I agree.

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