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La Malbouffe: Junk Food in France

Have you heard of the French paradox? The phrase was coined in the 80s by French scientists who noted a low incidence of heart disease in France despite a diet high in fat. Whether this French paradox still endures or whether it’s a myth is open for debate. One thing is certain, though: some foods are best avoided, and some dietary habits are not healthy. Let’s discuss how the French diet has changed over the years. Do the French avoid junk food, or do they secretly lap it up? Is there a word for "fast food" and "junk food"? Let’s find out and explore some new vocabulary.


The official term for “fast food” is la restauration rapide, but most people call it le fast-food. French businessman Jacques Borel adopted the concept and opened the first Wimpy hamburger restaurant in 1961, and later on McDonald’s first opened its doors in France in 1972. According to Wikipedia:


Le premier McDonald’s a été ouvert en 1972 près de Paris à Créteil.

The first McDonald’s opened in 1972 in Créteil, near Paris.


Fast-food chains in France, even places like McDonald’s, tend to have a little French flair to them, as it is necessary to accommodate the French palate. In some cases, fast food takes on a definite French flavor. For example, in Nice, people come at all hours of the day for a quick meal of la soccaa type of pizza, which is so popular that it has become the locals’ idea of fast food:


Ils ont créé une sorte de fast-food niçois

They created a kind of Nice fast food

Caption 78, Le saviez-vous? La socca, spécialité niçoise

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Another popular trend is les livraisons de repas à domicile (meal delivery services), which have gained momentum since the COVID pandemic. Meal delivery services like Uber Eats have flourished especially in major cities like Paris: 


Il y a eu une prolifération de services de livraisons à domicile depuis le Covid en France.

There has been a proliferation of home delivery services since COVID in France.


French people also enjoy the convenience of prepared food and produits industriels (processed foods), which, like fast food, tend to be loaded with du sucre (sugar) and des graisses saturées (saturated fats), not to mention additives and other chemicals:


Comme on trouve du sucre dans énormément de produits industriels...

As sugar is found in a huge number of processed foods...

Caption 64, Le Figaro Elle a banni le sucre pendant un an - Part 1

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Les graisses saturées sont les mauvaises graisses.

Saturated fats are bad fats.


Like le sucre and les graisses saturées, les additifs are also hard to avoid in les produits industriels. The lack of additifs becomes a major selling point for this purveyor of natural foods:


C'est un bonbon à base de miel et d'essence de plantes avec aucun additif dedans

It's a sweet made from honey and plant extracts with no additives inside

Captions 84-85, Victoria dirigeante de Millymenthe

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What else is found in produits industriels? Preservatives (des conservateurs). Don’t be fooled by this false cognate! 


"The preservative"... c'est un... un conservateur en français... et un préservatif c'est ce qu'on met pour se protéger des rapports sexuels.

The preservative... is a... un conservateur in French... and un préservatif [a condom] is what you put on to protect yourself from sexual intercourse.

Captions 71-72, 75  Français avec Nelly Les faux amis - Part 2

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Although French people are aware of the unhealthy aspects of processed and fast foods, they enjoy their convenience and affordability. In other words, people enjoy junk food. Interestingly, French does not have a specific term for this. The word la malbouffe (literally, "eating badly") is a close equivalent to “junk food,” referring both to unhealthy foods and poor dietary habits.


According to this article, young people are especially drawn to la malbouffe because it makes them feel a certain kind of independence from their parents:


Les jeunes aiment la malbouffe car c’est une façon de se différencier de leur parents.

Young people enjoy junk food because it’s a way to set themselves apart from their parents. 


People also use the term manger n’importe quoi (literally, "to eat whatever," or indiscriminately) when referring to eating junk:


Il faut pas trop que je picole ni que je mange n'importe quoi...

I shouldn't have too much booze or eat junk...

Caption 65, Le Jour où tout a basculé Espion dans l'immeuble - Part 4

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In conclusion, although more and more French people are consuming les produits industriels and ordering la livraison à domicile, they still care very much about what they eat. France still has plenty of gastronomic delights to offer, as our numerous food-related videos will attest. In any case, don’t let la malbouffe ruin your appetite!


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