Don't Let Them Eat Cake: Jenny Craig Goes to Paris
Chic and svelte Mireille Guiliano, who was for many years the CEO of the US branch of Champagne Veuve Clicquot, became a household name when she wrote the runaway international bestseller, French Women Don't Get Fat (2005). In it, she credits the French traditions of eating for pleasure and savoring meals in preventing obesity in French women.
"At the outset, let's state that French women simply do not suffer the terror of kilos that afflicts so many of their American sisters. All the chatter about diets I hear at cocktail parties in America would make any French woman cringe. In France, we don't talk about "diets," certainly not with strangers.
French women take pleasure in staying thin by eating well, while Americans typically see it as a conflict and obsess over it. French women don't skip meals or substitute slimming shakes for them. They have two or three courses at lunch and then another three (sometimes four) at dinner. And with wine, bien sûr. How do they do it? Well, that's a story. That's the story. One hint: they eat with their heads, and they do not leave the table feeling stuffed or guilty.
Learning that less can be more and discovering how one can eat everything in moderation are keys. So are exertion in proportion to calories consumed and a much more plentiful intake of water."
She guides her reader to develop
"a cultivated respect for freshness and flavor that unlocks the world of sensory delights to be discovered in presentation, color, and variety. What you do you will do for pleasure, not punishment."
But perhaps things have changed. Nestlé, the Swiss based food conglomerate, has announced this week that they are about to introduce the Jenny Craig line of pre-packaged diet entrees to France, starting March 9. The UK is next on the list in Europe, and the company also plans to make inroads in Asia, including India and China.
Europe is right behind the US in obesity rates, according to a Jenny Craig executive:
“We’ve done lots of research on different countries’ rankings of obesity, and Europe just jumped off the map,” said Patti Larchet, Jenny Craig’s chief executive. “It’s right behind the U.S. and Australia in percentage terms. People are really searching for an answer.”
In medical terms, "overweight" is defined as a body mass index (BMI) of >25, and "obese" is a BMI>30. In the US, about 1/3 of adults are obese, and another 1/3 are overweight, according to CDC data. According to the New York Times, a study published in January by Inserm, France's national health research institute, showed that 31.9 percent of people over 18 were overweight in 2009, up from 29.8 percent in 1997. This is similar to the percentage of US adults who are overweight. In addition, 14.5 percent were obese, up from 8.5 percent in 1997.
What happened? The French government has been alarmed by the growing problem for at least the past four years. Contrary to what Ms. Guiliano writes about in her book, French culture just may be getting to be more American.
Instead of the traditional image of French families spending hours sitting at the table for a leisurely, multi-course meal, a study in 2006, which filmed family meals, found that many French families ate
"in front of their television sets, while on the telephone and even alone. In fact, the average French meal, which 25 years ago lasted 88 minutes, is just 38 minutes today."
As another indicator, while McDonald's profits in the US were slightly down (-0.7%) in the US in January 2010, European profits increased by over 4%, led by France. In fact, in recent years, France has been the second most profitable market for McDonald's, after the US.
Theories of cultural change aside, it remains to be determined if the French will be willing to buy a packaged and portion controlled entree to replace their wonderful gastronomie. The Jenny Craig France website lists some sample menus, which do sound enticing, especially in French. These include such dinner entrees as "navarin d'agneau velouté tomate (velvety tomato lamb stew), thon basquaise et son blé (Basque tuna), and poulet et ses légumes en tagine (chicken and vegetable tagine)." But they still come from a box.
I am curious to see how the various planned international rollouts of Jenny Craig will be received. The combination of individual diet counseling and support and convenient, premade meals has certainly been well received in the US, and effective for thousands of satisfied customers. I imagine that, just as they are serving tagines in France, Jenny Craig will be serving stir-fries in China and curries in India. But are those countries ready for their meals coming from a box?