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Reflections on "Chocolat"

Warning: contains some minor spoilers for the movie Chocolat

I recently had some people over to watch the movie Chocolat, a wonderful film about restriction and judgment vs. inclusion and acceptance. When we talked a little about it afterward, one woman commented how she could relate to different people in the movie in different ways, and I realized that I could, too. In fact, I suspect most of us who’ve struggled with food issues could.

Consider Armande, the crotchety old woman with a rebellious spirit who doesn’t want anyone to tell her what to do – even if some part of her thinks they might be right. She wants to live life her own way, even if that means eating types and amounts of food that exacerbate her advanced diabetes.

It would be easy to look at her and be judgmental, except – I’ve done exactly the same thing in the past. I well remember how much I hated having other people tell me how to eat, even if I knew that eating differently might make me feel better. And though Armande took things to extremes, she was also a wonderful role model in ways, reminding her cautious grandson not to focus so much on “should” and to allow himself the freedom to live a little.

Contrast that with Comte de Reynaud, who was the very picture of restriction, carrying it to the opposite and equally damaging extreme. He ate almost nothing, not even nutritious food, because he had convinced himself that he needed to suffer, as if by his deprivation he could mend his broken marriage. The result? He became rigid and inflexible in all things, judgmental and joyless. And when he finally tasted a bit of sweetness again, he lost all control.

And I remembered that I’ve been on that side of things, too. During the days when I tried dieting, I often felt self-righteous about what I ate, believing that by cutting out certain things I would become a better person. Unfortunately, it didn’t work that way, since I was often stressed about food, overly hungry and irritable as a result, forgetting to enjoy what I had because I was too worried about eating.

Then there’s Vianne, the heroine of the story, who offers a wonderful example of a more balanced approach. She is surrounded by sweets all day in her chocolaterie, and yet she does not eat them in any great extreme. Instead, she seemed to put her focus on creating the food, putting all her care and heart into the making the chocolates. When she does have some, she clearly enjoys it in a more mindful manner. She also appears to use the energy from her food to fuel a very full, rich and vibrant life.

I, too, have found a more balanced approach, which includes putting time and energy into cooking and baking. I also enjoy sharing the results of my labor with those I care about, as well as eating it myself, taking time to appreciate it all the more because I know what effort went into it. And while I don’t always make chocolate-based treats, I have to admit they are among my favorites.

Not that Vianne is perfect – nor am I! We all have our own issues to work through and figure out, but I love the example of a middle ground, and how that includes living life to the fullest, as well as the reminder that no matter where we are on that spectrum, we can treat each other – and ourselves – with acceptance and care.


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