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

The French Diet: An Oxymoron

French Pastries

French Pastries

After spending a collective seven months in France over the past two years, I’ve come to the conclusion that health fads and diet trends are nearly nonexistent here.

I grew up in the Bay Area, the birthplace of the organic food movement in America and a haven for many of its contemporary advocates such as Michael Pollan and Alice Waters. I completed my undergraduate education at University of California Los Angeles, located in the center of image and health obsessed Beverly Hills, where juicing and Soul Cycle are considered the norm. You would think that Paris, a global city that considers itself the fashion capital of the world, teeming with models and celebrities and power players in the sphere of high society, would have developed its own set of according trends when it comes to diet and exercise. In the United States, we have seen waves of 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

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 4: The Future of French Food

online shopping

A new factor in the food distribution game is one of the main driving forces of globalization as a whole: the Internet. A third method of food distribution is becoming increasingly (albeit slowly) more feasible: online ordering for pick up or even delivery. Supermarket chains like Carrefour and Monoprix are offering online ordering and delivery services, and independent companies providing this service have popped up as well (such as Houra, which also delivers other products – clothes and small furniture – that a supermarket might carry). Could the “cybermarché” be the next step in food distribution, and if so, what will this mean for traditional food networks?

Over the last two weeks I have taken an in-depth look 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

Vegetarianism in France: Natural, or Non?

veg

Vegetarianism in France is on the rise. But is this a socially responsible, health-conscious attempt to preserve global resources and combat increasingly publicized poor animal treatment, or an economic decision influenced by diet marketing and economic strife?

Traditionally, French cuisine and its host of famous staple dishes (boeuf bourgignon, foie gras, and poulet rôti to name a few) is globally revered as the highest form of culinary art. It is also well understood to be a cuisine that consists of rich, fatty, buttery foods – with some form of animal protein as an indispensible staple. But things are changing in France. Vegetarianism is on the rise, and meat consumption is down – as much as 2% in 2013, a continuation of a downward trend experienced since at least 2011. Falling demand for meat (beef and veal specifically) in France is not due to the rise of vegetarianism, although Continue reading

Café Culture, or Coffee Culture?

French Coffee Café

Typical French “Café/Express” / Photo by Flickr user H4 g2

French coffee drinkers are increasingly turning away from the traditional French café in favor of more specialized, artisanal coffee, or “fast food” industrialized coffee (Starbucks). The poor quality of French coffee is frequently criticized; many claim that it is merely an overly-bitter afterthought served with excessive sugar cubes in an attempt to render it drinkable. In a response to this criticism, artisan and specialized coffee shops and even local roasters have begun to crop up throughout Paris, along with the industrial giant, Starbucks. For now I’m going to ignore the issues surrounding Starbucks, and focus on the other end of the spectrum: craft coffee in France.

Those who lament the loss of French “café culture” assume that this is a static and historically constant facet of French identity. But coffee is not indigenous to France; its cultivation and distribution is an artifact of colonization and extraction. The so-called café culture that emerged was a form of Continue reading