French Paradox or French Absurdity?

by Eve Resnick on March 2, 2009

in General

A few years ago, the French Paradox thrilled Americans (and French as well): by drinking a glass of wine a day and eating some olive oil, a lot of fruit and vegetable, fish (rather than meat), men and women could stay healthy for many years and avoid the dreaded and dreadful cardiovascular disease. And now here is the bad news: one glass of wine a day will cause cancer! The study by France’s National Cancer Institute (INCA) says that consuming just a 125ml glass of wine increases the chance of developing mouth, larynx, esophagus, colon-rectum and breast cancer by 168%.

Who should we trust? Europeans have been drinking wine for centuries with their meals. Wine is part of our culture and tradition. Poets, writers, musicians, painters celebrated its history, beauty and positive influence on Western civilization. We, Europeans, are blessed with the beautiful landscapes of our wine countries: travel along the gorgeous Rhone Valley, cross the hills and the valleys of Burgundy, admire the fabulous landscape of the Montagne Sainte-Victoire painted by Cézanne near Aix-en-Provence and now the place of one of our Controlled Appellation areas. More South, did you go to Rioja in Spain or in Tuscany in Italy?

As soon as this report of the INCA was published, a general outcry was heard all over France. Wine consumers expressed their disbelief: wine is not bad for your health – certainly less than all the chemicals, salt and fat in processed food sold freely in every supermarket. Forums, blogs, answers to articles expressed the same irritation to the dumb propaganda. Respected physicians and researchers published answers to the study, showing how the data were manipulated by the authors of the INCA study. They contested its results and conclusions. Vintners are considering suing the National Institute of Cancer for “misleading information” and for damaging their image and business.

Why all this noise? This week the French Parliament will discuss a new law on alcohol: how to prevent binge drinking by young people, advertising wine on Internet, suppress the “open bars” (which will outlaw all wine fairs, public tastings and tastings in vineyards), how to save money by avoiding dangerous behaviour such as drinking a glass of wine. When is the French government going to prevent us from crossing a street, shaking hand with a colleague or a friend (hands are the most common vector of contamination when you sneeze or cough) or forcing us to exercise 3 hours a day after work? All for our good, of course!

Let’s be serious: as grown-ups and responsible human beings, we have the right to our own privacy. We have the right to decide what kind of lifestyle we want to live without interference of our government. We are very privileged to be living in countries at peace and rich enough (even with the current crisis) to worry about health and prevention. Does it give the right to our government to decide if I should have or not a glass of wine or a piece of meat? I don’t think so. I think our money would be much better spent to help better causes.

As a lot of French citizens, I’ll watch very carefully what’s decided this week by our lawmakers. Freedom is at stake and in a country where it is our first value, it is hard to believe it could be threatened in the very core of our civilization.


1 Alex March 2, 2009 at 9:45 pm

At least Roselyne Bachelot did actually say last week (not before time) that the law wasn’t going to affects the wine fairs or tasting rooms at cellars/wineries.

Let’s hope that’s actually the case …

2 Evelyne Resnick March 3, 2009 at 9:50 am

Hopefully, Roselyne Bachelot (French Health Ministry) will be true to her word. Unfortunately she doesn’t control all the voters in the Parliament. Fortunately, on the other hand, a lot of PM come from wine regions. They will be voting hopefully against the most inadequate parts of the law.

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