Does a Cultural Icon Need a “Healthy” Logo?

In plain view, we have an interesting study of contrasts in cultural concepts for healthy eating. Americans have our Food and Drug Administration looking for criteria it can use to award a claim of “healthy” to some foods and not to others. For example, a freshly baked French baguette won’t qualify. Not enough whole grain. But an ultra-processed energy bar will – so long as it has the right formulation. In sharp contrast, the French do not need a “healthy” logo to know that their cultural icon – the baguette – is essential for a good life and good health.

They simply enjoy it.

The Essential Cultural Heritage of Food

Late last year, UNESCO declared that the humble French baguette is essential to humanity’s cultural heritage. They did not use a reductionist analysis of healthy nutrients to determine that this cultural icon is good. Rather, they relied upon its standing in the unsurpassed food culture of the French people.

Dominique Anract, President of the National Federation of French Bakeries and Patisseries, explains how the French baguette is woven into life from an early age:

“When a baby cuts his teeth, his parents give him a stump of baguette to chew off. When a child grows up, the first errand he runs on his own is to buy a baguette at the bakery.”

Whole grains or no, freshly baked baguettes define the rhythm of life in France.

Food Is Medicine or Food Is Life?

On the other side of the Atlantic puddle, Americans are intent upon turning food into some kind of medicine. But it seems that the harder we try to reduce it into a list of nutrients, the less we can take the time to enjoy it. “Here. Take this. It’s good for you, with all the right fatty acids and antioxidants.”

As health claims go up, pleasure in the communal enjoyment of food goes down. Enjoying the sensual experience of a meal somehow becomes a twisted source of guilt.

No. This is not healthy. Food is not medicine. It is much, much more. We should not be surprised that the French, with a refined sense of the role food plays in a good life, have less of a problem with obesity, diabetes, and related diseases than Americans.

Click here and here for more on the cultural icon that is the French baguette. For more on food as medicine, click here. Finally, for perspective on how the French view health claims on food, click here.

Baguette, photograph by Popo le Chien, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

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January 23, 2023

3 Responses to “Does a Cultural Icon Need a “Healthy” Logo?”

  1. January 23, 2023 at 8:55 am, John DiTraglia said:

    After hundreds of tries over years I still have not mastered the making of the French baguette. It should be easy but it’s not.

    • January 23, 2023 at 9:12 am, Ted said:

      I give you credit for trying. I know it’s beyond me, but I love the result!

  2. January 23, 2023 at 11:42 am, Neva Cochran said:

    Once again, I totally agree. I hate these food rating systems because no matter what criteria they use, it comes down to the perception of “good” and “bad” foods for logo vs. no logo. One system gave cottage cheese no stars to cottage cheese (out of a potential 5 depending on how high the food rated on the algorithm) because of its sodium content yet much less nutrient-rich foods received the maximum stars because they were not too high in any “bad” nutrients (sodium, fat, cholesterol, sugar).

    Again trained as a dietitian years ago, I learned that diet therapy or now medical nutrition therapy was one type of treatment or adjunct to other treatments (drugs, PT, OT) for various diseases and conditions. It did not replace them. Food is not medicine. Food is food and it has a role in health, disease, culture, family, religion and more.