Tag Archives: France

Food is Meant to be Enjoyed: Parenting Without Borders, Part 3

It’s been almost five months since I wrote a post in this series. In fact, I looked back at the first three posts in this series and noticed that there was a rather large lag between some of the posts (Intro to Part 1 = 3+ months; Part 1 to Part 2 = ~1 month; Part 2 to Part 3 = ~5 months). I wonder if we can consider this some kind of metaphor for how it can be with parents who try to cross some things off their to do list. Anyway, my hope is that I’ll be able to post a few more parts of this series in the next month and a bit. Let’s have a quick refresher on the first three parts.

In the Introduction, we broached the idea that the way other cultures parent might be more “right” than the way that the culture in North America parents, as discussed in the book Parenting Without Borders. In Part 1, we looked at some of the different cultural thoughts around sleep. There was also that stunning example of how it’s normal for babies in Scandinavia to be found taking a nap on the terrace in the dead of winter! In Part 2, we explored “stuff” and how having more of it might not be best for our children. In Chapter 3, we’ll take a closer look at the different ways that children around the world eat.

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One of the first things that struck me about this chapter was the aspect of neuromarketing. I’ve written about this in the past. From the book:

Food manufacturers spend enormous amounts of money to market their product to even the youngest eaters. The labels are brightly colored and appealing, and the foods are advertised directly to children on TV and the Internet. Supermarkets often put these kid-friendly foods at a child’s eye level so a child will be more likely to take them off the shelves and put them in the grocery cart when a parent’s back is turned.

Somehow, this seems… wrong. I totally understand the idea of free choice, free markets, and all that it encompasses, but is it really in our collective best interest to be pumping our kids full of sugar? More importantly, is it really in our collective best interest to allow an industry to surreptitiously convince our children that the foods they should be eating are found in the dry good aisle, rather than the produce section? Again, I totally understand that some folks are adamant about letting the ‘market’ correct failures, but it seems to me that in certain areas (healthcare being another one), there should be a bit more regulatory oversight.

On that note, I a little while back, I had what I thought was an interesting idea that incorporate some of the principles of Nudge:

The idea: a marketing campaign in which we tell people that, when they get unhealthy, their spouse or their kids will have to pay for it.

Circling back to the chapter, here’s another bit that I found startling:

It’s not just what kids eat, but how much. In the past thirty years, portion sizes have grown astronomically: a cookie today is 700 percent bigger than it was in the 1970s.

Seven hundred percent! That’s incredible. And that reminds me of one of the anecdotes I talked about when I wrote about how I stopped eating dessert:

There’s a story that I remember being told about Kate Hudson. I tried to find it just now, but Hudson recently mentioned something about a story in France that has similar keywords to the search I ran and so I’m not able to find it. It may or may not be true, but let’s just say that it is. When Hudson was young, her mother (Goldie Hawn), taught her an important lesson when it came to dessert: only take one bite. That is, when you’re served a piece of pie or a piece of cake, it’s not necessary to eat the entire piece. Instead, just take one bite of the dessert to “enjoy” the taste of the dessert and let that be it.

Can you imagine a sugar-starved kid only having one bite of their cake and leaving the rest? The stereotypical child that I’m imagining — of course — couldn’t do that, but I wonder if we move back to smaller portions (and smaller plates!) and teach our little ones about the importance of moderation, might this venture be a bit easier?

Before we close out this post, I wanted to share a couple of bits from the chapter about how food socialization of children in other parts of the world. In Japan, for instance, food is part of the education system. In the earlier grades, kids are learning about all the different uses for soybeans and by the time their in middle school, they’re already learning the basics of how to cook. I think most folks know that the school calendar is different in Japan (longer school days and longer school year), which allows for time for other learning. Rather than strictly focusing on academic instruction, Japanese students receive an education fit for the ‘whole’ of the person.

You might also find Sweden’s way of doing things refreshing — kids get to pick what they want to eat. The small catch is, the fridge is stocked with only healthy/good choices. In this way, a child in Sweden will never make the ‘wrong’ choice.

Eating in South Korea is similar to eating in Japan. One of the things I didn’t mention about Japan, but that is very important in South Korea, is that the family eats together. Everyone is eating the same things and there’s a real emphasis on a shared eating experience.

Moving west to France and Italy — food is meant to be enjoyed. A quick example from France:

School lunch in France is a class in itself. Children get one and a half to two hours to eat a leisurely, three-course lunch, followed by a recess. A typical menu for preschoolers in Versailles has children eating sliced radish and corn salad with vinaigrette dressing and black olive garnish, roasted guinea fowl, sautéed Provençal vegetables, and wheat berries, Saint-Paulin cheese, vanilla flan, and wafers.

I suspect that the meal above probably sounds better than what you had for lunch and probably sounds better than what you’re going to be having for dinner tonight.

Buy Less Stuff: Parenting Without Borders, Part 2

In the Introduction, we broached the idea that the way other cultures parent might be more “right” than the way that the culture in North America parents, as discussed in the book Parenting Without Borders. In Part 1, we looked at some of the different cultural thoughts around sleep. There was also that stunning example of how it’s normal for babies in Scandinavia to be found taking a nap on the terrace in the dead of winter! In Chapter 2, we’ll explore “stuff.” That is, all the things we buy when we have kids.

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You can probably imagine the stereotypical parents walking to their car in the parking lot — trying to carry all their new baby purchases. We’ve certainly seen this stereotype in movies, but I bet you also know some parents (maybe it’s you?) who went out and bought. Everything. Baby-related. Ever. Created. How many times have you used that thing in the corner? Or what about that *special cloth* on the shelf?

I feel pretty fortunate in that the course I mentioned in the introduction, “Bringing Baby Home,” spent some time talking about the things that some parents think they “must have” versus the things that are “nice to have.” In the second chapter of this book, Gross-Loh also goes into detail about the stuff we buy when we become parents. In the US, actually:

The average American family gains 30% more possessions with the arrival of each child.

Whoa! You could probably argue that Americans probably already have too many possessions (before bringing in a new person into the family) and then to add 30% more to that! Sheesh. Here’s another important passage:

American parent seek meaning in their lives and find purpose by making a career out of priming their children for success. Today, instead of being told we should wear high heels and pearls while vacuuming the house, we worry that by not buying something for our child that will help foster his unique interests, he won’t live up to his potential. UPenn sociologist argues that the way we spend money on our children reflects our commitment to the idea that we should do whatever it takes to help each child cultivate his individual talents.

When you couch the consumerism like that, it doesn’t sound as bad, does it? Parents are just trying to right by their child. One last small reflection of the American culture found in this chapter:

In the US, there are more shopping centers than high schools.

There’s probably more to that statistics than what’s on its face, but it does sound a bit startling to think that there are more shopping centers that high schools.

As you might expect, this rampant consumerism doesn’t exist in other parts of the world. For instance, in Japan, children often have far fewer things. More importantly, it’s part of their culture. Gross-Loh shared an analogy of one child being jealous of his friends because they had no family car (while this child did) because riding buses/trains seemed far more fun by the way the child’s friends described it. We could also probably talk about the size of Japanese homes versus the size of American homes. As you might expect, homes in Japan are smaller and as a result, have far less room to store stuff.

There are also examples from France where parents are employing a “delayed gratification” with their children in that children don’t always get what they want. The idea behind this is that the child then gains the satisfaction from waiting. That might be a tall order for some parents.

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Overall, the message from this chapter is that we don’t need as much stuff for our kids as we think we do. Of course, given the culture of consumerism, it’s easier said than done for some. Regardless, some of the research shared in this chapter points to the fact that having fewer toys  or “simpler, open-ended playthings” are better for the development of children. Given that parents are only trying to do what’s best for their children, telling them that research shows that “less is more” might make it a bit easier to swallow.

 

France’s 75% Tax on Millionaires is Not What You Think

Almost two years ago now, there was a big hullabaloo because France proposed a 75% tax on millionaires. Some folks were really upset that millionaires were going to have to pay 75% of what they earned in a year for taxes. WRONG. This is not true. In no country (that I’ve ever seen), do taxes work this way. One of the words you often hear — progressive. Another one — marginal. Confused?

I’ve been thinking about this over the last few days. Since it was announced that the President of France was getting approval for the 75% tax, I’ve been listening to what some folks have been saying about this tax. It reminds me of what happened last year (around this time) when there was talk of extending the Bush tax cuts in the US. People were confusing or not really understanding just how the tax system works.

Essentially, taxes are the same for everyone. How?

There was an article in the New York Times a couple of years ago where there was someone in the US who was worried about making a few extra thousand bucks because she didn’t want to be taxed at the higher rate. What? That’s right. She thought that because she made (fictitious numbers) $100,000 instead of $98,000, she was going to have to pay more taxes on all of her $100,000. If you know anything about taxes, you know that this is not true.

When you pay taxes, you pay the same as everyone else. That is, if someone earns $35,000/year and you earn $50,000/year, you both pay the same amount of taxes (up to) $35,000/year. However, you will also have to pay taxes on that $15,000 difference. Depending on the country’s laws, that might be the same rate. Another word for this is tax brackets.

Remember earlier when I mentioned the words marginal and progressive? This system of paying similar amounts of money across people is called marginal or progressive taxes. It’s important that it’s conducted in this manner, otherwise people would be incentivized to do what that lady in the NYT article was talking about — not earn extra money when you’re near a new bracket for fear of having to pay a different rate on all of your money. Of course, we know that this isn’t true.

Something I don’t understand is how many people simply don’t understand this. There are some things in life that are important and worth knowing and I’d think that knowing how/why you pay your taxes would be one of them. Maybe we need to do a better job of educating folks in school about this idea of marginal/progressive taxes. Maybe we need to change the name, I don’t know. Until then, I’ll keep writing posts like this to remind you just how tax systems work.

By the way — I should note that I’m not arguing for/against the 75% tax that Francois Hollande has just had approved, I’m simply trying to explain what it is, so that when people do debate the merits, they’ll actually be talking about the same thing.

Is There No Easier Way To Choose a President?

I think this cartoon — while meant to be funny — also has a good point. The USA just went through one of the longest and most expensive campaigns — isn’t there an easier way to do this?

I understand that some folks think that there might not be and I really don’t have a definitive answer to the question. I would look to some of the European countries like France where the campaign/election takes a fraction of the time as it does in the US. Or, there are the US’s neighbors to the North — Canada. An election is called and 6 weeks later, there is voting! I realize that the US has quite a larger population than Canada, but I wonder how much more productive the policymakers of the US would be if campaigning/elections were only 6 weeks long.

Think about all the time that lawmakers spend at fundraisers or campaigning. Just about all of that time could then be reallocated to creating public policy! One would think that things might move along quicker, but who knows, maybe they wouldn’t.

If you have an idea for how you think elections should run in the US, I’d love to hear. Let me/us know in the comments! On the face of it, there certainly seems to be a need to reduce the time it takes to choose a President in the US. If we start counting the time all the way back to the primaries, it takes over a year to pick a President in the US. That certainly seems like a long time, especially given that some of these same people are also tasked with running the country.