Monday, 29 May 2017

100 Apples

It's always nice when you have a pet theory about something and science proves it to be true.

It's even more interesting when you have a pet theory about something and science proves that it extends beyond what you had even considered.

When people talk about French paradoxes, one that comes up often is the fact that a country with such an abundance of delicious food (and such an obsession with talking about it) manages to have some of the lowest levels of overweight and obesity in Europe. My pet theory about why this works is that when food tastes good, you don't have to eat as much of it to feel satisfied. (Had I been Mireille Giuliano, I could have made a fortune telling everyone that the key to being slim is to replace Dairy Milk with champagne and oysters, but unfortunately I'm too much of a realist. She also got there first.)

Recently, a few items in the media have caught my eye because research suggests that it goes much further than this: studies have found that the varieties of fruit and vegetables we eat today are much lower in nutrients than those grown in a few decades ago, and it may be that we are eating too many calories because our bodies are craving the vitamins and minerals that they need. This article claims, for example, that a 1950s apple had 100 times more vitamin C than the apples we eat today.

The Obs article cites mainly British, Canadian and American research but there was a programme on France 5 recently (which sadly I can't find on replay anymore) about the work that the French Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique is doing in this area giving much more detail. Both suggest that organic produce is generally better, but the problems of selective breeding, poor soils and increasingly intensive production, even on organic farms, remain.

While the fact that French studies have similar findings to the others shows that France is not immune to this problem, I wonder if the fact that it is still possible here to find many different varieties of fruit and vegetables, often locally produced, means that it might not be quite so bad as elsewhere. And perhaps the national obsession with high-quality food means that France can lead the way in looking for solutions. I'm interested to see what will happen next.

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

A Few Things I Like about Emmanuel Macron

I woke up in the early hours of Sunday morning with a feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach. I haven't written about the presidential election until now because, while I have lots of opinions on politics, I don't generally feel confident or comfortable sharing them on the internet. I don't think it's too controversial to say, though, that the prospect of having in charge of the country a racist, homophobic anti-semitic islamophobe with no credible policies and a desire to end dual nationality (my daughter) and get rid of migrants (me), did not fill me with great joy.

So after Macron was elected yesterday with a comfortable margin, on waking up in the early hours of this morning, I took a moment to enjoy the irony of the fact that the first word that popped into my head to describe the way I felt was apaisée. And for the past 48 hours, every so often I feel a little burst of happiness that I live in the country which managed not to elect Marine Le Pen.

What I'm somewhat surprised by, however, is how negatively many people seem to feel about Emmanuel Macron, the man who managed to stand in her way.

It's not that I like every single thing about his programme for France's future. I understand people's unease about his coorying up to the giants of the business world and potentially undermining workers' rights. Acquaintances who know more about the economy than I do (but are otherwise not particularly right wing) have said that Fillon was the stronger candidate in this area. One friend was even a bit annoyed that someone a few years younger than he is had just been elected president of France. But apart from the argument that beggars can't be choosers, here are a few of the other reasons I have for feeling positive about Macron's success:

He's intelligent. Watching him in the final debate of the campaign, I was impressed by how well he both knew his own stuff and was able to respond to Le Pen's nonsense without a single hesitation or glance at any notes.

He has initiative. Some people have described his pathway to power as an autoroute given the dearth of other electable candidates, but his movement saw opportunity and took it, which is better than sitting back and whinging about how terrible everyone else was.

He's proposing practical solutions to real problems. Education is a subject close to my heart, and Macron wants to improve the chances of those in the most deprived areas (Zones d'éducation prioritaire). To do this, he wants to stop filling those schools with the most inexperienced teachers, as tends to happen under the current system, and pay those who do work there a bonus. He plans to increase continued professional development for teachers, but also make them more accountable for making sure that their practice is up to date.

He knows that la laïcité is not about stopping Muslims from being Muslims.Which is more than you could say about 40% of the other main candidates.

He is pro-European, but has also said he understands that Europe needs reform. I'm not arguing with that.

He has promised to defend le mariage pour tous and other gay rights.

He has a presidential persona. After five years of Hollande, it's a relief to listen to someone who actually seems convinced by his own words.

He's the man who told Marine Le Pen, "Ne vous dites pas de bêtises - vous en dites beaucoup":

Perhaps it's a sorry state of affairs if I feel so pleased about Macron's victory just because he has at least a reasonable number of qualities to balance against his flaws. But for the first time in months, I'm prepared to be optimistic about this one.