There’s fight brewing in France right now that goes to the soul of the nation.
I’m not talking about the rise of militant Islam and the “no-go” zones in Paris where Islamofascists rule with an iron fist. I’m not even talking about the rise in anti-Semite sentiments.
Nope. I’m talking about French cuisine. Cuisine developed through centuries of French grandmeres cooking delicious meals using local ingredients. Cuisine brought to prominence by culinary geniuses like Escoffier and Simone Beck and Julia Child.
French cuisine is under attack. By vegans.
In June, the French Federation of Butcher sought help from the government after local boucheries and charcuteries were attacked by “militant” vegan activists. These activists have been targeting shops with anti-meat graffiti, fake blood and protest stickers. The butchers called the harassment a form of terrorism aided by a hostile media.
“It’s terror that these people are seeking to sow, in their aim of making a whole section of French culture disappear,” federation chief Jean-Francois Guihard wrote in a letter to Interior Minister Gerard Collomb.
Over the past couple of decades, French society has become a bit friendlier to those who wanted a vegetarian option. On a personal note, I was flirting with being an egg-eating/milk-drinking vegetarian when I first visited the City of Lights 30 years ago. I faced a miserable time of omelets and salads, so I quickly remembered that humans are omnivores and gave myself happily over to boeuf, lapin, agneau, and porc.
Today, there are over 320 vegetarian-friendly restaurants in Paris, and the butchers are feeling the heat from the meatless movement.
French diners, while looking for more kale and quinoa, aren’t abandoning traditional cuisine like boeyf bourguignon and steak frites. Restaurants like Le Relais de Venise are still seeing diners wait in line for up to 30 minutes for their single entre: entrecote steak with a double portion of fries. Just like they have since 1959.
“I come here to treat myself,” said Alice, 35, who preferred not to give her last name. She was waiting in line with her office co-workers at lunchtime. “I try to eat less meat and charcuterie for health reasons, but I don’t want to give it up completely. After all, it’s part of the French way: We like to live well and enjoy nice food and drink.”
Alice represents a growing trend of “flexitarians”, people who eat less meat. Which kind of sounds like normal people.
Most vegans and vegetarians in France aren’t attacking the butchers. But they are working to change the traditional French cuisine by taking classic cooking and preparation techniques and applying them to vegetarian dishes.
But a more worrying sign for butchers is the flexitarians because at least 50 percent of people in France say they want to increase consumption of vegetable-based food, according to an Ifop/Lesieur poll.
Farmers and butchers also seem concerned about a significant fall in meat consumption in France, which has slumped 20 percent in the past 20 years.
Meat consumption in France was estimated at 185 pounds per person last year compared with an average of 152 pounds for the rest of the European Union, according to French farming agency FranceAgriMer. That is still well below the 207 pounds of meat that the average Frenchman ate in 1998.
But now the butchers are fighting back against the vegans and the animal rights activists—former movie bombshell, Brigitte Bardot, has long been on the front lines of trying to ban foie gras.
The meat lobby has convinced lawmakers in the National Assembly to reject a recent proposal to require schools to introduce a weekly vegetarian meal. The legislature also approved an amendment barring vegetarian food producers from using the words “steak,” “fillet,” “bacon,” “sausage” or any other meat-related term in market products that are not partly or wholly made up of meat.
The regulation also applies to vegetarian and vegan products sold as dairy alternatives. For example, Les Petits Veganne, an artisanal maker of vegan “cheese”, has to market its version of Camembert cheese with the similar-sounding “camembaire.”
Failure to comply with these regulations can bring fines up to $350,000!
That’s a lotta lettuce for mislabeling lettuce.
As someone who recognizes that France does two things quite well—food and wine—I’m staying on top of this issue. Because once the militant vegans convince the government that we don’t deserve a good pate with crusty bread and steak au poivre, or that we have to replace duck confit with a vegetable barigoule, you might as well tear down the Eiffel Tower. France will be no more.