Published July 2002
I listened to a report on the BBC world service (go here http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/health/newsid_2063000/2063117.stm for the full story) about the findings of a study carried out at Oxford University on the impact of diet on crime. The study found that when prisoners in a high security prison in Buckinghamshire where provided vitamin and mineral supplements in their diet that their reoffending rates dropped by a massive 25 per cent. The study is now being extended to the general population and it points to the possibility that crime may be less about poor parenting and more about poor diet. Makes sense when you think about it.
Over the past few months, as something of an outside/inside observor in France during the presidential and legislative elections, much of the hype that led to the rise in the right related to security and crime. Seems like the whole world is becoming paranoid and scared of the next door neighbour. Fear is fed by cynical politicians, insurance companies and people dealing in security devices. Meantime, in one of an infinite number of vox pops carried out in the South of France during the election campaigns, a market trader in Le Pen country was asked about crime and security - he smiled lazily and said "what crime?". And that's about the plain truth of it. Living here over the past couple of months I feel I've arrived in one of the safest, least menacing societies ever. No need to lock doors or windows except of course for the insurance company. No need to feel scared walking down the street or to dance around your handbag at the discotheque. No need to put your children on reins for fear somebody might whisk them away. Kevin returned to the car at the supermarket one day to find a queue of people rushing up to him to tell him that somebody had dinged the side of the car. The perpetrator of this "major offense" had stayed around and also approached him, full of apologies and offers to pay for what was a mere scratch - pas de probleme. I grant you that we live in a rural area, far from the social, economic and melting pot presssures of big cities, but instinct tells me that we are living in a country where criminals are the exception rather than the rule.
I used to assume that the high crime rates in the US were down to the gun laws - putting temptation in the way of angst people. However, there's guns a plenty where I'm living now - you can't drive down the road of a Sunday without seeing the chasseurs about their weekend sport. But they don't seem so quick to turn their guns on each other. And what's the best known secret about France - they live to eat rather than eat to live. Even Macdonalds french style is more civilized, serving real coffee, nice ice cream, salad with everything, and beer! They may get wound up but then they have a nice leisurely 2 hour meal and the worries of the world are absorbed, digested and minimised. And, as the world's biggest consumers of anti-depressants, or so I'm told, if the food doesn't do the trick, they take a pill. Beats beating up on your neighbours, or attacking the schoolyard in a fit of teenage annoyance.
So, the moral of this story - get up early enough to have some breakfast, take at least 2 hours for lunch and eat lots, and spend your evening eating - you won't have the time or energy to fall out with the world. Buy your food at the market - prod everything, smell it, savour the flavour. Then teach your children to do the same thing because, at their core, food is a hugely important part of a child's existence. They may shriek for Macdonalds and pizza and chicken nuggets - it's up to us to help them to explore the world of food, to introduce rituals such as laying the table, having multiple courses, trying new flavours, cheeses, breads . . . It's a lot cheaper than taking them to a fast food restaurant every time you're feeling tired. And, once you get into the swing of it, it strengthens family bonds and becomes a pleasure. Where I grew up they used to say the family that prays together stays together - a load of old poppycock if you ask me. I'm now discovering the french secret - the family that eats together is happier together.