French urged to go ‘flexitarian’ and cut down on much-loved meat

The famously food loving French have been urged by a health watchdog to go "flexitarian" by cutting down on meat and fish in order to save their their waistlines and their money.

French urged to go 'flexitarian' and cut down on much-loved meat
Photo: David McSpadden/Flickr

Beouf Bourguignon, Confit de Canard, Coq au vin… the list of famous French dishes containing meat is a long one and explains why France is a meat loving nation where vegetarians often feel out of place.

But a new report by WWF France is urging French people to cut down on viande and eat more legumes.

Essentially WWF France is urging people to adopt a flexitarian diet, meaning “semi-vegetarian” as some call it, where nothing is forbidden but meat intake is cut down.

Dramatically cutting down on meat and fish and eating more vegetables is not only the best option for people's health, but also for their wallets given that it is cheaper and most significantly better for the planet as a whole, says WWF France.

To put together a suggested diet for the French the NGO took as a starting point the average weekly shopping basket of a family of four (two adults, two children) estimated at €190 a week.

WWF France said this basket should be made up of roughly two thirds vegetable protein and one third animal protein, which in reality would mean a drop of 30 percent in the amount of meat purchased and a cut of 40 percent for the amount of fish bought.

By not buying so much beef, lamb and veal the French would find they save more than a few euros each week.

But to compensate the amount of vegetables in that shopping basket should increase by 50 percent.

French urged to follow perfect diet and there's no room for saucisson
The good news for the French cheese and yoghurt lovers is that WWF France said these dairy products don't need to be cut back.
The new diet would guarantee nutritional balance, says the NGO and cut the carbon impact by 38 percent.
Shoppers would also save money or if they preferred to spend the €190 then WWF France says they will be able to spend their savings on organic or better quality products.
It's not the first time in recent months that the French have been advised to alter their diet.

Getting the French to eat less saucisson will be a tough battle to win for the agency, apparently the French munch down 2.2 kilos of saucisson each second, which adds up to a total of 70,000 tonnes a year.

This is not the first attack on saucisson by a health organisation. In October 2015 the World Health Organisation labelled classic Gallic grub like saucisson and jambon as carcinogenic.

That provoked an angry response from some locals.

An 83-year-old Frenchman told The Local that he had survived far worse than an overdose of charcuterie so he wasn't going to stop eating meat just because the health boffins at the WHO say so.

“I survived World War Two and that didn't kill me, so to hell with what they say,” said the veteran who asked not to be named.

No need to despair if you love French food, there's some Gallic grub that is particularly good for you.

The great Gallic grub that's surprisingly healthy

For members


Reader question: Exactly how many different types of cheese are there in France?

One thing everyone can agree on is that France has a lot of cheese - but exactly how many French fromages exist?

Reader question: Exactly how many different types of cheese are there in France?

Question: I often see a quote from Charles de Gaulle talking about ‘246 different types of cheese’, but other articles say there are 600 or even 1,000 different types of cheese and some people say there are just eight types – how many different cheeses are there in France?

A great question on a subject dear to French hearts – cheese.

But it’s one that doesn’t have a simple answer.

Charles de Gaulle did indeed famously say “How can anyone govern a country with 246 different types of cheese”, but even in 1962 when he uttered the exasperated phrase, it was probably an under-estimate.

READ ALSO 7 tips for buying cheese in France

The issue is how you define ‘different’ types of cheese, and unsurprisingly France has a complicated system for designating cheeses.

Let’s start with the eight – there are indeed eight cheese ‘families’ and all of France’s many cheeses can be categorised as one of;

  • Fresh cheese, such as cottage cheese or the soft white fromage blanc
  • Soft ripened cheese, such as Camembert or Brie
  • Soft ripened cheese with a washed rind, such as l’Epoisses or Pont l’Eveque
  • Unpasturised hard cheese such as Reblochon or saint Nectaire
  • Pasturised hard cheese such as Emmental or Comté
  • Blue cheese such as Roquefort 
  • Goat’s cheese
  • Melted or mixed cheese such as Cancaillot

But there are lots of different types of, for example, goat’s cheese.

And here’s where it gets complicated, for two reasons.

The first is that new varieties of cheese are constantly being invented by enterprising cheesemakers (including some which come about by accident, such as le confiné which was created in 2020).

The second is about labelling, geography and protected status.

France operates a system known as Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC or its European equivalent AOP) to designate food products that can only be made in a certain area.

As cheese is an artisan product, quite a lot of different cheese are covered by this – for example a blue sheep’s milk cheese is only Roquefort if it’s been aged in the caves in the village of Roquefort.

There are 63 listed AOC cheeses in France, but many more varieties that don’t have this protected status.

These include generic cheese types such as BabyBel and other cheeses that are foreign in origin but made in France (such as Emmental).

But sometimes there are both AOC and non-AOC versions of a single cheese – a good example of this is Camembert.

AOC Camembert must be made in Normandy by farmers who have to abide by strict rules covering location, milk type and even what their cows eat.

Factory-produced Camembert, however, doesn’t stick to these rules and therefore doesn’t have the AOC label. Is it therefore the same cheese? They’re both called Camembert but the artisan producers of Normandy will tell you – at some length if you let them – that their product is a totally different thing to the mass-produced offering.

There are also examples of local cheeses that are made to essentially the same recipe but have different names depending on where they are produced – sometimes even being on opposite sides of the same Alpine valley is enough to make it two nominally different cheeses.

All of which is to say that guessing is difficult!

Most estimates range from between 600 to 1,600, with cheese experts generally saying there are about 1,000 different varieties. 

So bonne dégustation!