France Moves to Protect Revered Part of Life - and Its Reputation Modernity Hits the Baguette, Which Is Soon to Be Sold under a Label

By Howard LaFranchi, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, September 1, 1993 | Go to article overview

France Moves to Protect Revered Part of Life - and Its Reputation Modernity Hits the Baguette, Which Is Soon to Be Sold under a Label


Howard LaFranchi, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


IT is a quintessentially French scene: As meal time approaches, in hurried cities and peaceful villages alike, Frenchmen head home with a golden, naked baguette of bread - or two - clutched resolutely in hand or wedged insouciantly under an arm.

The most picturesque bearer is still a grizzled, ruddy farmer topped by a well-worn beret. But today those carrying home this revered basic sustenance are more likely to be a dark-suited businessman, a chic Parisienne - the leash to her fashionable canine in the other hand - or a backpack-toting schoolchild.

Yet while France's spiritual relationship with its bread has survived the last half-century's transition from rural to urban society, a growing chorus of bakers, consumers, and officials worry that the object of adulation, the bread itself, has not.

What once contained nothing other than flour, water, yeast, and salt, is increasingly adulterated with additives to make the bread rise better, turn whiter, and last longer. Industrial concerns now deliver frozen bread dough to bakeries, so that some neighborhood boulangeries, or bread shops, are "no longer boulangeries at all," as one government anti-fraud official recently noted, "but only baking terminals."

Now France is about to act. To safeguard not just its bread "but an area, food, and gastronomy, which contributes to the reputation of France," the government is set to approve measures strictly defining what goes into French bread, how it is prepared, and who makes it.

Once Prime Minister Edouard Balladur signs the new decrees, as expected, two new official labels will distinguish breads across the country: "home-made," for breads mixed, kneaded, and baked at the point of sale; and "traditional French," for breads whose dough was never frozen and contained no additives.

The new law is roundly supported by France's thousands of traditional bakers, but dismissed by industrial bakers who take a growing share of the bread market - now about 15 percent - and who resist the suggestion that their bread is any less French than the local baker's. …

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