Magazine article Phi Kappa Phi Forum

French Gastronomy Faced with Globalization

Magazine article Phi Kappa Phi Forum

French Gastronomy Faced with Globalization

Article excerpt

Gastronomy (good food and good wine) is an essential component of France's culture, her image abroad, and her offerings to tourists.

Its influence is based on an ancient moral tradition, surfacing in the Middle Ages, if not in antiquity, which made greediness and even gluttony one of the few licit joys of existence and of sociability. At no moment in history, except in the second half of the twentieth century, did Catholic moralists consider gluttony, which is today a mortal sin, anything more than a venial sin (Pitte, 1991). It is in the fertile soil of lawful pleasures that the French art of eating well and drinking well blossomed. Today, however, this art is confronted with economic and cultural intermingling resulting from globalization.

THE BIRTH OF THE FRENCH GASTRONOMIC MODEL

From the second half of the seventeenth century, especially because of the personal impetus of King Louis XIV, great cuisine and the arts of the table acquired a prestigious status and were a key part of the French cultural model that was destined to cement the French national unity which dazzled all of Europe. These arts expressed the glory and the refinement of the court, just as architecture, town planning, garden design, painting, sculpture, music, fashion, language, poetry, and theater also all did. Seventy-five titles, or about 100,000 cookery books, were printed with the king's approval between 1651 and 1691. They all codified the new art of cooking in the French style, based in particular on the use of butter and cream, white meats, and tender fruits and vegetables, but excluding the excess use of spices and the sweet-and-sour flavors that survived in northern and eastern Europe, where they were attached to medieval culinary traditions (Flandrin et al., 1983). All the courts of Europe recruited French cooks, who were in such great demand that they could name their own salary.

At the end of the Ancien Regime, under the Revolution and during the nineteenth century, the great cuisine of the court became popular within the framework of a new institution, the restaurant, a refined place outside of one's home where one could eat well. This institution inspired in part the establishment in England of what would become taverns and clubs (Pitte, 2000 and 2001). About the middle of the nineteenth century, great luxury hotels opened all along the coasts of Europe, at the foot of mountains, in health/spa resorts, and in large cities. Usar Ritz was one of the inventors of this new way of journeying outside of one's home to take the waters, the sun, the view, and to enjoy the pleasures of life.

The cooking in these palaces was worthy of their comfort and of the services they offered. Auguste Escoffier advised a number of these establishments, in which he officiated wherever needed. He placed hundreds of chefs throughout Europe, in the royal courts, the restaurants, and the hotels, spreading the influence of French cuisine (Escoffier, 1985). Today, most of the cultured inhabitants of the planet, with the exception of the Chinese, continue to believe that France is the one country in the world where one eats the best. This perception is an indisputable success of French cultural communication. We will not discuss here the validity of this almost universally held idea.

OPEN TO THE WORLD: AN ANCIENT TRADITION OF FRENCH GASTRONOMY

Since antiquity, the inhabitants of Gaul and then France had access to foods coming from other regions of Europe, even from other continents (wines from Italy, spices from southern Asia, and cod from the North Atlantic, for example). Through its own evolution, in the seventeenth century the great cuisine of France renounced the massive use of spices, but it adopted the new products born of the great discoveries of the preceding centuries and the first colonization: corn, permitting the fattening of poultry and the development of the fatty livers of ducks and geese; coffee; tea; chocolate; sugar cane; wines of the Mediterranean, of the Atlantic, of South Africa; rum; and so forth. …

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