The Parisian Paradox? Even French Food Isn’t Fresh Anymore


A baguette from the boulangerie, a slab of cheese from the fromager and a basket of produce from the farmer. Is there anything more romantic than the idea of grocery shopping in France?

A quintessential gastronomic capital of the world, France has always been respected for its cuisine. But romantic visions of French food and the reality of French food are two different things entirely; and in the day and age of the supermarket and fast food, France has been affected just as much as the rest of us.

In fact, it’s common knowledge that nowadays in the French capital, your plat du jour may in fact just be a reheated dish of food bought from an industrial food company, where many bistros and brasseries buy their food in bulk, frozen and even canned. Even the bread you’re eating, that light, fluffy baguette, or a buttery, flaky croissant, may have been made by an industrial giant, simply to be popped in the oven by the so called “baker.”

The problem is so bad that French lawmakers have been working hard to approve legislation that would require restaurants to specifically label dishes that are actually made in-house. The bill is expected to pass this month, meaning no label and no luck that it’s authentic fare.

“The use of industrial foods in restaurants is a growing global phenomenon,” Daniel Fasquelle, a National Assembly lawmaker told the New York Times. “But for France, we’re talking about our heritage. If we don’t do anything, in 10 years, real restaurants will be the exception.”

The bill is expected to pass this month, and while some are opposed, others say that the government isn’t going far enough. Last year, big name French chefs like Alain Ducasse and Joël Robuchon came up with their own “Restaurant de Qualité” seal which would indicate places that meet much higher standards for both food and atmosphere. According to the Times, “only 10 percent of France’s 100,000 restaurants would qualify, since most “only do industrial cooking,” Mr. Ducasse said while unveiling it last year.”

Some argue that identifying whether or not certain products are frozen isn’t necessarily helping anyone, since there’s not a lot of difference between frozen onions and fresh onions. But for many in France, especially restaurateurs committed to cooking with fresh, local ingredients, it’s a matter of principle and tradition.

Whether or not the bill will change the cultural institution of the restaurant in France remains to be seen, but we can all take away one lesson: Even in France you have to pay attention to what you’re eating.

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