Internet and 747 Best Allies of Terroir and Slow Food?

In Down to the Last Cream Puff (London Review of Books, August 5, 2010), Stephen Shapin reflects on the rise (and fall?) of French Culinary traditions.

The piece is a combination of musings on the strangehold of government regulations, decline of raw milk cheeses, chasing the 3rd Michelin Star, disappearance of bistrots and other French travails as well as a review of Au Revoir to All That: The Rise and Fall of French Cuisine by Michael Steinberger(UK Edition, Bloomsbury) published in the US as Au Revoir to All That: Food, Wine and the End of France.

Stephen Shapin mentions a passage of the book where Michael Steinberger visits Philippe Alleosse, a French cheese affineur in Paris and quotes him as saying:

'No French chefs come to visit here. We get foreign chefs, but no French chefs. The French think that good cheese is too expensive. It is the Americans and other foreigners who support quality. The French think that good cheese is too expensive. It is the Americans and other foreigners who support quality. I have Americans coming into the store saying: "Philippe, you must continue, you must protect lait cru cheeses, you have the best métier in the world." I never hear that from French people.'

After that quote, Steven Shapin adds "here, as elsewhere, the natural allies of terroir and Slow Food are the technologies of globalisation: the internet and the 747."

I am not sure that comparing the restaurant scene in the US to France or Italy is a good way to look at it.

Going to a restaurant in France when I lived there was more something you did for a special occasion while in the US, it came down to many people not cooking at home and the multitude of options offered from slice of pizza to fine dining.

The small town were I live in New Jersey with a population of near 37,000 people counted a couple of years ago 140 plus eateries of all types.

Regarding bistros in France, they might suffer from the drop in church attendance as much as from anything else. In small town of my youth, most of the men exiting Sunday Mass headed straight for the Cafe de l'Eglise right across the street.

France still seems to have a thriving restaurant scene except newcomers are small places whose primary objective is not to chase the Michelin stars.

Even in the US, in the past 2 years, more people cook and eat at home since many discovered that their wealth was only paper riches.

Maybe the US experience will get closer to the French one with most of us going to restaurants mostly for special occasions?

Is it all that bad?

To give credit where it's due I came across Stephen Shapin's piece via Another Reason French Food Has Fallen So Far (The Atlantic, August 17) by Corby Kummer.

There are still small producers out there like La Courtisane and its homemade confitures which I will sample soon.


(* Photo by Vera Leon)

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