If there is a subject on which the French generally agree, it is the evils of ‘la malbouffe’. ‘Bouffe’ is slang for eating and the term ‘malbouffe’ has come to symbolize the poor eating habits of a fast-food generation.
Et oui – junk food is a problem even here in France, the land of good eats and gastronomic traditions. While most kids at school get a hot lunch, and families still sit down for a home-cooked dinner, the rise in the number of fast-food chains dominated by ‘le Mcdo’ is undeniable. What is worse, in my books, is the price wars through ‘promos’ in the supermarket chains.
France is served by a number of supermarket chains selling everything from diapers to donuts: Carrefour, Auchan, Leclerc, Intermarché, Casino and Super U. From the corner shop to the hypermarket, there is one of these shops in every French town.
You may have heard about the Nutella war that took place a few weeks ago when one store offered a kilo of the stuff at below cost. People flocked to get the deal, and scenes like this ensued:
Et oui! Hallucinant!
It is indeed telling. Not only that this kind of garbage (and I use the word intentionally for any food whose first ingredient is sugar) is consumed so massively, but that economic conditions are such that people would fight over it.
In this France is no different from anywhere else.
But France being France, there is a backlash. One of its mascots is Richard Ramos, a deputy fo the governing party from the department of Loiret in north-central France. Ramos came to fame this past weekend when, during an appearance on the (excellent) political talk show, C’est Politique, he spread the ‘fake news’ of a so-called toxic preservative used in prepared foods. E330 or citric acid, as it turns out, is not toxic or even carcinogenic. It can cause the enamel of your teeth to erode.
His reputation took a hit but you can’t deny the wave on which he is riding. Ramos, and many others like him, want supermarkets to stop selling off crap like Nutella at cost and start paying a fair price to farmers. To draw attention to this cause, last October he drove a truck full of onions into a supermarket parking lot and dumped them – inviting shoppers to come and help themselves. The message was that the hard-working paysans who grow our food are not able to earn a living wage due to mass-consumerism and the greed of the supermarkets.
Add to the woes of these farmers the growing number of dairy and meat producers who can’t compete with cheaper EU imports and can barely make ends meet — and you have the makings of a national tragedy.
One that will not be solved by cheap Nutella and a hamburger to go.
What do you think? How can we ensure that agricultural producers make a decent living from their labours? Boycott the big stores? Buy direct? Make greed illegal?