Regardless of being in the country, every food encounter seems devoted to the food lover in Provence. The roadsides stands are filled with seasonal fruit and vegetables of the region (though some come from Spain). Each small village has a couple bakeries, a meat and charcuterie shop, a cheese shop and fruit and vegetable stands selling fresh products at a reasonable price. Then there is the weekly farmer’s market in each village that lures its clientele with its colorful displays of produce, vast selection of Mediterranean fish and mouthwatering rotisserie chicken among other things.
For those of you who don’t know me, I’ve spent a significant amount of time in France over the years. Thus, it came as a surprise when something recently just clicked. It occurred to me after playing a game of Pétanque with a few local working class guys in their early twenties who sipped on their microbrews and debated the best local bakery in town. The the majority of French people I meet, regardless of income; seem to share a passion for food. Now that might not shock you, but what shocked me was that I realized everyone has access to high quality food. The local shopkeepers in Cadenet, France shop at the same farmer’s markets as the wealthy tourists who are drawn to Provence for Michelin dining (there are over 20 starred restaurants in this region).
This is a change from our divided class system in the States where the Whole Foods’ shoppers are at the top of the food chain and at the bottom reside the food deserts-poor urban areas where supermarkets will refuse to even set up; leaving its residents with only fast food options. If you’ve never heard of food deserts I suggest you take a moment to check out the link I included. I’m not going to go down the slippery slope of arguing for a Socialist government but I’ll point out, even though the French system has many flaws, the subsidies given to farmers; allowing the majority to eat well, if they so choose (and many don’t choose), is not one of them.
I’ll be the first to admit that there are French people who frequent large supermarkets and eat processed and fast food; the younger generations especially. However, from my observation, the French food culture is light years ahead of the US in comparison. Furthermore, the expensive restaurant scene is far from an equal opportunist event in France. As a blogger I don’t have tons of time before I lose my readers attention so instead of debating the outlier arguments, I’ll go ahead and prove my point…
I went to the local butcher to buy the finest meat they had- filet mignon. I then went to the épicerie, which sells fresh fruits, vegetables, local cheese and other miscellaneous items to buy my side dishes for my meal. In my shopping I made no effort to buy the cheapest items. I bought exactly what I wanted for the perfect meal as I always do. The total cost was 10.60 Euros; no wine included.
Last summer I made this same meal for my husband and I in Seattle. I shopped at Metropolitan market (the Whole Foods equivalent) and I remember it cost me around $65 (the filet mignon was around $35 and there weren’t left overs), again, no wine included.
Other meals that I’ve made recently for €10 or less are (all produce bought from farmer’s markets or local shops):
I’m reminded of a time when I heard a podcast on NPR where the guest was arguing that the term ‘foodie’ is ridiculous because we all need to eat food and, by default, must like food, deeming the term irrelevant. As a ‘foodie’, I was appalled by this perspective; possibility, because it belittled the time I’ve dedicated to my hobby… I reflect back to it now, after having observed the French’s relationship to food, and think maybe that person had a valid point. If I grew up in an environment where eating local was the norm I would think it absurd to have a term to identify people who seek out quality food. Maybe it is the American way to give a term to the food elitists who can afford the best so that our efforts are justified, given the energy and cost it takes to seek out organic farm-raised products.
Food for thought anyway…