When I was guiding my guests on the Burgundy Canal, we would visit the indoor market in Dijon. I would purchase something seasonal for them to taste. Between that visit and the food on board, I was constantly asked, why does French food taste better?
It’s one of those questions that can not be answered easily, in one word. Rather there are multiple facets that come together to explain why French food tastes so good. Let’s delve…
First and foremost for me, the primary reason is food miles. France is a HUGE grower of foods, the largest in the EU, from the staples to the unique delicacies. And even though it is a big country, compared to the USA and Australia, foods do not have far to travel within.
And with so many French markets available, where local producers small and large offer their wares, having your food coming from just down the road is a very real possibility. Though you do have to shop around even at a market. At any market anywhere, there are local farmers and those that buy wholesale to sell on. France has the largest market in the world when it comes to wholesale fresh produce. But it is pretty easy to tell just in looking how local is local.
There are of course some foods that are not grown in France, like bananas. But they do have islands further south that cover many of the more exotic food groups. Yet, even though ‘French’, food miles are involved. However, I have noticed that the more exotic foods, eg those grown outside of France, are not as popular overall. Bananas are certainly not as big a staple in France then in many other countries.
And one thing I really like here is that they clearly label where foods come from. There is a great pride in what is grown locally, so you will find most (good) market stalls will indicate the country of origin particularly if it is locally grown or made.
The second reason I think French food is better is seasonality. Again, visit a market, and especially with the local farmers you will only get what is in season. And again, you can tell when people are buying in wholesale by offering items out of season.
But not just markets, supermarkets too. Not wholeheartedly. There’s still those bananas year round, but in general the produce changes with the seasons. More squash, in example, in autumn. Green beans in summer. It’s not common to see vegetables you can get locally brought in out of season from elsewhere. Try finding broccoli in May, even in a supermarket. It is just not expected.
There are exceptions. Always. Grand Frais is a supermarket dedicated to predominantly fresh produce. And it very much leans towards French, especially in their cheeses, but also provides the exotic and has a large expat particularly Middle Eastern and Asian clientele. Since their raison d’etre (reason to be) is as a chain store veg market, this is one of the few places I have seen out of season produce more readily available. Think Wholefoods if you live in the USA. And although I am a fan of the shop style, clean and fresh, I would only shop here when I require something exotic, say lemon grass, for a particular recipe.
Is French Food Better?
I can say unequivocally, yes, French food is better. But then you may have noted that I haven’t quantified this statement with – better than what? In general, and this will be a broad sweeping statement, I would say that French food is better than the majority of countries. Simply because they are very strict about what they put into their food.
Not just recipes, but the actual food. Take in example, fruit. Why are American strawberries 5 times larger than a French one? Or apples? Or the infamous Dutch tomato? (Known wryly as the water bomb.) Messing with genetics can produce a larger item, that can travel easier, which is more cost effective when it comes to supplying the masses. But, and this is a huge BUT, there is absolutely direct correlation to what is produced, whether larger than real life fruits or processed foods, and quality of taste. Genetically modified truly do not taste as good. In fact, I would go so far as to say they have no taste at all. Especially in comparison.
And not only no taste, I suspect there is a correlation to health as well. Besides my guests commenting on taste, there were also regular comments from people eating foods they normally wouldn’t eat at home. (Hey, they were on holiday.) So whereas at home they might avoid gluten, in France, when confronted with the daily dose of fresh bread, they gave in and enjoyed. And strangely discovered that they had less, or sometimes even no, reaction.
This was most prevalent with bread. Which in itself does not surprise me as bread in France is highly regulated – to NOT put additives in. The baguette, by law, can only have 4 ingredients: wheat, yeast, water and salt. No preservatives. Wine is another. Many who have allergies/intolerances to wine found they could drink French wine. Some of this could be due to ageing wines longer, lower sulphites, alcohol levels or Tyramines. When it comes to chemicals in wine, the French go for less.
Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée or AOC adds to why French food is so good. It’s such a big aspect of French culture (and why I have a separate blog post on understanding AOC). In a nutshell here, it is about making certain that quality is tantamount.
By making certain foods, or wines, that are unique and exceptional are made a certain way, in a certain place, so as to guarantee quality. From the grass a specific type of goat eats to how you prune a particular regions grape vines. It is recognised, through AOC. that there are many levels that contribute to making something the best, from the location and its weather to the process and ultimately even storage.
I have no doubt that you have some awareness of strikes in France. It’s definitely a thing here. And an effective thing. Hence why it happens. A lot. The two most common groups that strike are the railway workers and those in agriculture. Since this post is about French food, I’m going to touch here on the latter.
The farmers in France have a lot of clout. A strong union is the main reason, but also the cultural back up that the French like, and expect, good food. There are many facets to why farmers strike, but a good portion currently is about cheaper imports. And whilst local produce can indeed be more expensive, cooking oils are a prime example, this circles us around again to food miles, seasonality, and taste.
Rosy Coloured Glasses
It’s not all roses in France when it comes to food. There are less and less farmers, with less young people willing to go into farming. The pandemic caused an economical shift that leans towards cheaper foods. We are seeing a growing use of supermarkets for convenience, and a lessening of local markets. Which is sad, as there truly is a correlation about being the best to all of the above.
Food desserts do exist, though not quite so large as other countries. France is becoming more car dependent in rural areas. Though there are schemes to change this with some call on demand access. The flip side of this is that growing ones own food is still very popular here. Particularly in rural areas. Maybe even more so since the pandemic economic issues and the lessening of local markets.
Not just French Food
If you enjoyed this topic, and would like to go more in-depth, I can recommend Type Ashton‘s video on why European food is better. It offers up some very interesting, well researched information. Including, of course, French food. (And what inspired my thoughts and ultimately this post.)
If you are a fan of good food and thus cooking, I hope you will check out some related items in my Shop. Here’s a taste…
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