checkout in French supermarché

image: checkout in French supermarché. Photo by Special Correspondent Kat

|| 7 April 2024

Ultra-Processed Foods in France

Our Chic & Slim Special Correspondent Kat is in France. I asked her to look for signs of how much ultra-proccessed foods the French are consuming. Ultra-processed food (UPFs) consumption is high and rising in both the USA and the UK. Consequently excess weight and obesity and their related health problems are also on the rise. But what about in France?

Kat reports on UPFs in France:

As you requested, I have been checking out supermarkets here, trying to work out how much UPF [Ultra-processed food] French shoppers are actually buying.

UPFs are certainly available. In our two largest local supermarkets, LeClerc and Intermarche (which are enormous) there are shelves and shelves of biscuits, crisps [chips], crackers and other nibbles, also chiller and freezer cabinets filled with ready meals of all kinds.

The only American supermarket I have patronised was Harris Teeter in Charleston last year, (we were staying at a friend’s house and self catering), and I found the availability of fresh foodstuffs, particularly fruit and vegetables, depressingly low. All cheese was pre cut and shrink wrapped, likewise meat and fish. Not very appealing. The rest of the store was packed with ready meals and junk food. And I was told this is an upmarket store.

The situation in France is very different. For a start, the supermarkets I’ve mentioned are roughly twice the size of Harris Teeter, located well outside town centres, and the large quantity of UPFs is dwarfed by the quantity of fresh produce, including meat, fish, shellfish, bread baked in store, cheese and deli items. There is also a huge selection of canned goods. And the quality is very high. Whilst I prefer to shop for my fresh produce in small independent shops (I like to support them, and the quality of the produce is admittedly superior) I would have no problem putting meals on the table, relying solely on the supermarkets.

Looking into peoples’ trolleys [shopping carts], I am beginning to wonder why the French supermarkets are stocking so many UPFs. People don’t seem to be buying them in any quantity. Yes, there are too many bottles of fizzy drinks in there (but just as much mineral water) too much supermarket patisserie, too many packets of nibbles, and, Lord knows, too much pasta (I’ve mentioned the pasta consumption before, and I believe it is at the bottom of the expansion of the French posterior) but this is more than balanced by the amount of fresh, frozen and canned produce.

So, it seems to me that the French are still eating mostly healthy, unprocessed or minimally processed food. That’s the good news. The bad news is that they are eating a bit too much of the bad stuff, and much too much starchy food. When every meal is accompanied by bread, and potatoes are a staple in your diet, why the need for large quantities of pasta?

The other good news is that the small independent food shops in the centre of town are thriving. In Pont l’Eveque (population approx 5000) we have four butchers, an Italian deli, two greengrocers, about six boulangeries, two French delis, and at busy times there are queues at all of them. Some have changed hands since I’ve had the house here, but none has closed, and several new ones have opened. Compare this to the high street near my house in London. When I first moved there, about forty years ago, there was a butcher and a greengrocer, as well as a newsagent where one could also buy dairy goods. All gone, replaced by multiple estate agents (realtors) and chichi and very expensive cafes and breakfast places, which I might visit once a year, but which are usually packed solid. And up the road and round the corner lurk Tesco and Sainsburys mini supermarkets by the dozen.

Merci to Kat for sharing her observations and photos of UPFs in France.