François Mitterrand's prostate. Not the most obvious place to start for a mainstream food show but the entry point nonetheless for France On A Plate (BBC4, Monday), a greatest-hits collection of stereotypes about the French eating anything with a pulse (of the cardiovascular kind). Cultural historian Andrew Hussey is our guide on a gloriously enjoyable romp stuffed with juicy factual titbits - if you're boiling a rat, for instance, try to get one from a brewery. They're plumper and smell of ale.

Between historical anecdotes about the 'transgressive feasts' of the social élite and the borderline cannibalism of the pre-Revolution destitute, Hussey attempts to demonstrate a unique link between food and politics in the French psyche, covering Napoleon, Louis XIV and, inevitably, the 'let them eat brioche' of Marie Antoinette.

His argument about the French quest for "gravy and glory" is not entirely convincing - it's hard to interpret Vlad the Impaler's rumoured habit of eating his enemies as entirely apolitical. But there's enough meat on the bones to stir up the brain as well as the senses. Indeed, this long-time Camembert lover never suspected his cheese of choice is regarded as the most democratic of dairy products, while Gruyère is supposedly emblematic of fascism.

Hussey depicts the French obsession with food as cultural imperialism - while Britannia painted the map pink, they conquered the kitchen. So when a French restaurant's snooty maitre d' tells you not to tuck the tablecloth into your shirt, remember it's just post-colonial envy.

Hussey's thesis is pop psychology on a pop-culture canvas, even featuring the 'Royale with Cheese' scene from Pulp Fiction, and set to an appropriately modish soundtrack including punk, Justice and the quintessentially Gallic grooves of '90s chart-botherers Air.

As for Mitterrand, the former president was famously a fan of ortolan, the tiny songbirds drowned in Armagnac and traditionally eaten whole from beneath a napkin - supposedly to hide the diner's depravity from God. It was the last thing he ate before prostate cancer got the better of him.