The New York Times recently published an article about the rise of food sensitivities and diets in the United States and the challenges that emerge when a picky eater is part of one’s guest list.
Unfortunately, the difficult (but generally doable) life of New York picky-eater can become an insurmountable “tour de force” in France.
First, gluten-free is nearly impossible in the homeland of the 1,001 breads, croissants, ham and butter sandwiches, crepes and béchamel sauce. Second, veganism is still considered to be a mental disorder by most of the population. If you mention it to a Frenchman, he will take 5 to 10 minutes trying to define the concept and will look at you in dismay as you clarify the fact that, no, you don’t eat eggs or butter. Third, why would you want to spend any time in France if you can’t taste any of the 450 types of cheeses that France birthed?
Also working against the picky eaters is the core eating philosophy of France that one must eat a little bit of everything (the key word here is "everything"). As described by Karen Le Billon in the book “French Kids Eat Everything,” table manners are very important in France and they imply the notion of accepting whatever food your host puts on the table. Also, what might be problematic to our picky eating friend is the homogeneity (also called, lack of diversity) of the offering within each region. Outside of Paris (where one can survive solely on macaroons and sushi), Alsace offers choucroute, The Basque country piperade, and Lorraine, well, Quiche Lorraine. But good luck to you if you’re looking for a paleo auberge or a vegan bakery.
Finally, don’t get intimidated by the supposed exoticism of French cuisine. Not all French food is wholesome and not all Frenchman healthy. If the “blanquette de veau” you ordered at the Restaurant de la Gare looks and tastes like microwaved frozen food, well… it just might be. A study recently uncovered that only 20,000 restaurants out of the 120,000 in France used Fresh products. And, yes, we like our junk food: Nutella, Carambar and Haribos are a staple of French childhood and they have even made recipe books based on them!
Nutella, Fraise Tagada and Carambar: the recipe books by Marabout
"French Kids Eat Everything" by Karen Le Billon
"Bringing Up Bebe" by Pamela Druckerman
"French Cooking in 10 Minutes" by Edouard de Pomiane
"Eating and Drinking in Paris"