France is turning up the notch on connecting consumers with their local French farmers and organic food in a throwback nod to vending machine-style dining.
If you’re too young to remember automats, and I’m guessing you are, here's the deal: The automat was a pretty simple healthy(ish) precursor to today’s fast food. Picture restaurants that look kind of like giant vending machines, with seating. This is the automat. You’d cruise up to a wall of vending windows filled with plates of food. You eye the window of choice, say one with a steamy hot Salisbury steak, mashed potatoes, and creamed spinach (that’s what they ate back in the day, I’m pretty sure), drop in your nickel (!) and pull out the meal. Voila. No ordering into a loudspeaker or trying to eat while you drive. And a lot more fun than eating at your desk, ahem. (Automats are so kitschy there’s even a Google group for fans of automats in film.)
Now, the automat concept is getting a much-needed upgrade, where else but in the food capital of the world: France.
According to Vice, a café in the north-western quadrant of Paris called Au Bout Du Champ (“At the end of the field”) is reviving the automat to connect consumers with organically grown fruits and vegetables.
While it may seem like a gimmick, it’s actually got a pretty important backstory, one that poses a threat to French farmers. It turns out that despite France's love for real food, supermarkets in France are no different than supermarkets anywhere else in the world in that they’re interested in cheaper food, which for France, means foreign imports. And that’s taking a big toll on French farmers.
“The big distributors have killed small producers in France in the last ten years,” Julian, who began Au Bout Du Champ with friend Joseph, told Vice’s Munchies. “Supermarkets like Monoprix demand cheap prices for food but the fruit and vegetables are not fresh and are imported from places like South America—they’re terrible and it’s not logical. Every weekend, I go to my parent’s house for a traditional Sunday lunch and we always buy well-priced, freshly picked produce from the farmer who has a stall close to the road. In the city there is nowhere to buy such food.”
Now, at Au Bout Du Champ, the automat contains “organic fresh fruit, vegetables, and eggs sourced from the Île-de-France area, no more than 50 kilometres outside of the city,” reports Vice.
While local growers still set up shop at the city’s bustling farmers markets, the automat is yet another way to connect French consumers to locally produced food. And for the busy French consumer, it's quicker than strolling through a farmers market, which as anyone who’s spent time in one knows, can totally suck away hours of your day. Especially if it's strawberry season. And until French farmers can get more support from the country’s supermarkets, there may be more automats popping up, keeping the French-grown food in front of the French people, where it belongs.
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Image: HD Valentin