American in the making

The first time I stepped foot in America I was shocked. It was in Louisiana and the airport’s doors had just opened. Like a woosh of hot air out of an oven, the burning breeze had hit me. Quickly, I understood I had to rush into to the cool car waiting for me. For the first time in my life, I was experiencing that cool invention called AC… That, was a neat country…

I was 24 and excited to start my new life in the US. A direct delivery from the South of France, I was now in what I called the land of the smile (as seen on TV) and intended the make the best of it.

AMERICAN APPRENTICE  

Here, I was going to learn about work and the public life. At USL then at  the San Francisco University, I discovered how good grades are gotten because of precise answers, not abstract thoughts. During the summer, I survived with jobs in bar kitchens or youth hostels.

Then, as a writer for the French press, I traveled from a state to another. Drove rented cars as far as I could in a 24 hours stretches. And curious, made friends with Taos Indians, Conservative Think Tanks or New Agers as well.

Common life was a delight. Life at work, life on campus, life in the stores. I savored the peace of waiting in line without having to fend off old women. I cherished stores delivering a fine service when no worker was above 22. There was no rioting like at home because students had lost their free housing advantages (poor things). 

I even speeded up my learning with self help books. How authentic. I became good at how to talk to difficult people, how to speak with – women from another planet – and how to practice one million habits of highly successful people.

THE EATING LIFE

That was all fun and good… But that was the public space. When it came to the private life, the home life, the eating life, I could not swallow the pill.

When I opened the fridge on my first night in Lafayette, I recognized only one food as food: orange juice. The rest was flashy recipients containing stuff that people probably absorbed. I know now there were margarine, pop tarts and dozens of dressings filling up the fridge door. So for a few days I lived on OJ.

Soon at the cafeteria, employees called me the one that ate “healthy”. At first I thought it was a compliment. But then I realized it put me in a “special” category: the not-normal-eater. So I started a counter propaganda: I was eating “normal” and they had to find an adjective to qualify their way to eat.

Thankfully, there was gumbo! I could see the shrimps, in there. The black woman serving us adopted me. And in San Francisco the following year, I lived on sunflower seeds and tuna fish sandwiches sold at the bottom of the dorms.

After I graduated, I started to travel across the country chasing interesting stories for the French press. The first thing I would do in a new city was to go to the grocery store. I packed up for the next leg of the trip with whole wheat bread, Swiss cheese, spinach or tomatoes.

Over the years, I had housemates… dozens of them. I saw how sick they became for around three weeks a year. I mean sick in bed while in the strongest years of their lives! That was strange. How did they manage that?! They would stock up on vitamin pills, though. But they never touched a fruit. Even though I was ten years older, I looked ten years younger.

Something I was doing was right. Friends loved my cooking. Women wished to stay as thin as me (not good for the male ego). So Little by little, I started to give dinners where I shared about an old way of eating.

FOOD RESISTANCE

My enquiry grew when I returned home in France and observed how the people ate. I was rediscovering the tricks of my father to get us enthralled with vegetable, the way my mother trained the taste of toddlers, the gardening of my great-grandfather. They had received the knowledge from their own parents and their parents before that… The query would provide with a life style passed on for thousands of years. It was the way  that made those “French people so thin even though they eat all that butter”.

But my desire was to collect the thinking behind the actions. The Christian faith, underlying the old French way of living, would rise out of my early memories. Their way of eating was tied to the way they looked at the world, worked, befriended, and eventually kneeled. The ultimate way to explain the way to eat was to explore the civilization behind those lives and that civilization was Catholic.

Fortunately for you and for me, that antic foundation is compatible with a good life (not a depraved one, but a good one). A life with feasting but not gluttony, with wine but no alcoholism, with meat but all other fresh foods too. And because I had eaten that way in America myself, I knew it was possible to live it out here too. In many aspect, it is not very different from the way old Americans used to eat.

HISTORY IS A SCIENCE

From a gig to another, I ended up a TV producer at the international television EWTN. The little cooking club born in San Francisco would make its way into a TV show in Alabama!

In the show and the book are gathered a wisdom for a life of delight. I have collected the behavior and reflexes noticed at home. I have gathered the acts of faith behind the behavior. Through your life and my life, this knowledge may be our contribution to a return of a real table in America. Enjoy.

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