Explaining the French attitude toward food
By Peter Humi
CNN Paris Bureau Chief
December 23, 1999
Web posted at: 10:50 a.m. EST (1550 GMT)
This news analysis was written for CNN Interactive.
PARIS (CNN) -- "L'exception francaise" -- the concept of
"the French exception" -- is something that is difficult to
explain, but let me try.
The recent World Trade Organization talks in Seattle were
big news in France. Not because of the riots that threatened
the talks themselves, but because of what was considered
here as the very survival of some venerable French
institutions, traditions and cultures.
Let's take French food and agricultural industries as an
It comes down to protecting a certain way of life, or more
precisely, a certain outlook on what is considered important
in life here in France.
France is one of the few countries in Europe that still has
a peasant work force. Tied as these people are to the land
they cultivate and the food they produce, they are a
respected and, for their number, influential group in
The fear of globalization is felt most keenly among them, a
threat to old traditions and the high quality of their
produce that is internationally recognized.
The often-artisanal production of many foodstuffs is worth
preserving and fighting for to the French. In part, at
least, this is "l'exception francaise" -- an apparent
unwillingness to compromise over issues considered vital to
the national interest, including cultural and, indeed,
The French government, as it looks ahead to the new
millennium, seems to agree with the people. Never mind that
tax money is spent on subsidizing many farmers. It's not an
unpopular expense in the public's eye. And never mind that
the subsidies help produce gluts in certain fruit and
vegetables every year.
The French want healthy, fresh food, grown and produced in
an exceptionally French manner, and they're prepared to pay
more for it.
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