“French-ifying” the No-Go Zones

Over 3 million people across France gathered to march in tribute to the victims of the January 2015 terrorist attacks

Over 3 million people across France gathered to march in tribute to the victims of the January 2015 terrorist attacks

The recent events in Paris surrounding the Charlie Hebdo attacks have sparked a series of intense conversations about immigration, integration, tolerance, religion, and free speech in France. These conversations range from constructive and thought-provoking to ignorant and downright offensive. One such “controversial” voice in the conversation is Fox News, which infamously issued a report denoting “no-go zones,” neighborhoods in Paris characterized by a heavy concentration of Muslim residents.

Nolan Peterson on the "no-go zones," Fox News

Nolan Peterson reporting for Fox News on the supposed “no-go zones” in Paris

While this report in and of itself was offensive, inaccurate, and short-sighted, the responses to it sparked a different sentiment. Parisians were quick to defend their neighborhoods, and in doing so looked to assert the “safeness” of these no-go zones by proving just how French they are. One such rebuttal was taken up by popular food blog, Continue reading

France, Going Organic

Organic Radishes

Organic French Radishes

The organic industry is finding a home – and a burgeoning market – in the land of haute cuisine.

Last post I discussed the French “diet,” or lack thereof. I contrasted health-obsessed calorie-counting America with croissant-loving wine-drinking France, and delved into some of the reasons for France’s better health despite the tradition of fat and carbs. Ultimately the piece concluded with a question about France’s dietary future: with the influx of industrial agricultural techniques and food systems, fast food, supermarkets, and processed foods, will France be able to maintain its healthy, fresh bread-loving lifestyle, or will the influx of easily and cheaply obtained packaged foods begin to reflect the American trend towards obesity? Continue reading

Halal Meat: Permissible, or Forbidden?

A halal butcher shop in France

A halal butcher shop in France

If you find yourself wandering around certain parts of Paris, you’ll start to see various butchers and restaurants with the word “halal” attached to their name. Unlike kebabs, the politics of which I discussed in my last post, halal meat does have a direct relationship to and implication of Islam. The term “halal” means “permissible” or “allowed,” and refers to meat that is prepared in a specific way (for example, killed by hand and blessed), and without contact to other “forbidden” meats or cuts (such as pork, or hindquarters). Of course it is a bit more complicated than that – the Halal Wikipedia page has a more thorough definition – but for our purposes, it is enough to simply understand the essential relationship between halal meat and religion.

As with kebabs, there has been controversy over halal meat in France – perhaps even more so. In 2012, then-president Nicolas Sarkozy and far-right Front National leader Marine Le Pen both spoke out in favor of Continue reading

The Other Fast Food: Kebabs

Doner Kebab

Typical Doner Kebab (Wikimedia Commons)

Before fast food, there was street food.

One of the most prolific street food items throughout the Middle East is the kebab, a flatbread sandwich filled with meat sliced from a rotating spit. If you’ve been to Europe since 1990 (and perhaps found yourself out at a late hour with one too many drinks in your system) you are probably familiar with the kebab, sold from tiny shops stuck in between electronics stores and Laundromats, displaying that golden tower of slowly rotating mystery meat prominently in the front window.

I have grown to love the Parisian Kebab, the majority of which are Turkish and come with a generous pile of frites stuffed into the center and smothered in a mayonnaise-based white sauce, modifications that have acted as a sort of “hybridization” to appeal to French customers. Like pizza and now the hamburger, kebabs have grown in popularity and shops have grown in number as globalization intensifies the flow of cultures, people, and objects throughout the world. But unlike pizza or hamburgers, both of which have Continue reading

Escargot: Save the Snails?

Traditional French preparation of escargot. Paris, France.

Traditional French preparation of escargot. Paris, France.

Again, I’ll ask: what is the absolute most French food you can think of?

If it’s not frog’s legs, then it’s got to be escargot. Another dish that confuses and even disturbs many Americans, snails are considered a traditional component of gastronomic history in France. But it’s not just the French – archaeological evidence suggests that snails have been on the menu in Mediterranean regions since prehistoric times. Other cultures eat snails as well – Spain, Italy, Greece, Portugal, and some Asian countries all include snails as a common (or at least socially acceptable) menu item. For whatever reason, though, snails have been Continue reading

Frogs’s Legs, a French Identity Crisis

Traditional French preparation of frogs' legs, served at Allard in Paris

Traditional French preparation of frogs’ legs, served at Allard in Paris

What is the absolute most French food you can think of?

…Chances are, frogs’ legs come to mind. In a sense, you would be right – of 160 million frogs reportedly consumed in Europe each year, exactly half of those are eaten in France. The French are undoubtedly the biggest fan of the tiny amphibian…so much so that they have driven their own frog populations to near extinction, and were forced to place a ban on frog hunting in 1980. In order to maintain high levels of frog leg consumption, France now must import its amphibians from Asian countries with thriving frog populations, namely Indonesia, the #1 exporter of frogs’ legs globally. So it seems that suddenly French frog legs’ are no longer French, Continue reading

Wild Mushroom Hunting, a French Pastime

Clockwise from the bunch that looks black: trompettes, girolles, cepe, pied de mouton, chanterelles, and pleurotes

A variety of wild mushrooms, purchased in Paris

Yet another one of France’s most sacred culinary traditions is wild mushroom picking. In fact, mushroom picking in France is a highly regulated and competitive endeavor, guided by laws and/or commonly accepted social norms.

Some mushroom-related laws:

  • Mushrooms belong to the owner of the land on which they grow (Article 547, French Civil Code)
  • If such land is public, a law passed in 1989 gives the prefecture power to regulate wild mushroom picking. This may include a per-person limit, certain days when picking is allowed, or a complete ban on mushroom picking due to environmental factors.
  • Mushrooms must meet specific size requirements to be picked, based on variety
  • The only tool allowed in mushroom picking is a knife, which must be used to cut the mushroom off from its roots in order to preserve them for growing future mushroom generations
  • Mushrooms collected must be carried in a wicker basket to allow spores to fall through and grow new mushrooms

Continue reading

The Truffle Tragedy

French Périgord truffles prepared on top of toasted bread slices

Traditional gastronomic presentation of French Périgord truffles

Another French product is in jeopardy – and this time, Americanization is not to blame. French truffles are in serious danger of being out-competed by cheap Chinese versions in an apparent “black market” truffle trade.

French truffles are among the most expensive foods in the world by weight. Going for around €500 per kilogram, black French truffles from the Périgord region in the Southwest, are considered one of the most luxurious symbols of high French cuisine and gastronomic heritage. Along with geographically benevolent vineyard soil, French truffles are considered one of France’s most prized natural culinary possessions. As such, they command an extremely high price. The financial benefits are attractive not only to French truffle growers, but to imitators, specifically those Continue reading

The Market Debate, Part 3: Inside a Local French Market

french food market paris vegetables

The Saxe-Breteuil market in Paris

The traditional French market, or “marché,” is a historical fixture in French culture and daily life.

A society dedicated to food quality and tradition, the local market is one way the French connect and interact with their nationality; it is an identity performance, a way of sustaining a relationship with traditional foods, the land they came from, and the people who grew them, all of which are specifically French.

One of the earliest examples of a traditional French market was Les Halles, created in 1110. Over the centuries the market grew and transformed to reflect the contemporary market format as a space for buying and selling local foods and products. Today, the food market that once bustled at Les Halles has been relocated in favor of a large commercial shopping center, perhaps an accurate representation of the reorganization of French consumer culture. But despite the meteoric success of supermarkets and fast food, Continue reading

The Market Debate, Part 2: Inside a French Supermarket

carrefour shopping carts grocery store

Where do you buy your food? If you live in France, there’s a good chance the answer is “Carrefour.”

Carrefour is the leading supermarket chain in France. Opened in 1958 by Marcel Fournier, Denis Defforey and Jacques Defforey, it has expanded into a multinational corporation with a revenue of €76.127 billion in 2012 (Carrefour Annual Report). In it’s first 20 years of existence Carrefour opened more than 2,000 stores, and today has locations in Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. It is the fourth largest retail operator in the world behind Wal-Mart, Tesco, and Costco (Potter 2011). Directly influenced by the American retail giant, Carrefour replicated the American superstore model as well as its success. However in recent years Carrefour’s profits have remained stagnant due to a combination of increased competition, the global recession, and a growing distrust of industrial food.

The following video depicts a typical walk through one of Carrefour’s “hypermarkets”. Continue reading