The Big Moo In Paris

photo: agri, regional food

For a split-second, the hall looks nearly empty -
but wasn't.

Coming Soon - 'Bio' Champagne

Paris:- Wednesday, 1. March 2000:- If you happen to be thinking about France, there is a good chance you will be thinking about food. People who live in France all the time think about food all the time too, even if it is all over the place.

People think about other things too, but not quite as often. Three meals a day get more attention that a weekly football match.

Only a very tiny minority of people here spend much time thinking about three-star restaurant meals. These sort of represent the myth of French cooking - 'myth' in the sense that they are good to have as a dream.

There is also a national pride in having them - sort of like having more Olympic gold medals in the international food competition.

True reality is hastily-bought packages, which may or may not have edible contents. Grim reality is breakfasts of a half-baguette smeared with butter and dunked into milky coffee, possiblyphoto: agri, cow eaten while standing up, ready to charge off to 'métro-boulot-dodo.'

The new reality, is mad cows, dioxin chickens and 'epidemics' of listeria; not to mention US-style fast food outlets and pizza delivery. The future is here and it is confusing.

The is Metropole's 'Cow of the Year' and her name is Brigitte Moo.

This morning, with the latest unsolved outbreak of listeriosis in the papers and on radio-news as usual, I am at my local street market. Here I see older people buying their pork tongues in jelly; I see the stall operators using one knife to cut a slab of this and that - and - nobody looks particularly suicidal.

In fact, my doctor neighbor tells me the only 'epidemic' is in the papers; they are bleeding ink all over the place. Cases of listeria are a third of what they were ten years ago.

The food-chain industry and the government behind it are worried about the negative effect of all the bad food-news. Paris' annual big Moo show, known as the Salon de l'Agriculture is bending over backwards to be 'clean' and reassuring - 'French Food Is Good For You!'

They need not bother. Ten of thousands are flocking down to the food exhibition at the Porte de Versailles with the same enthusiasm as they go to see the new cars. New cars they dream about; food, they can eat right now. Cows are loveable.

Right here in the big Hall 1 are the cows and inphoto: agri, midi pyrenees the center is the judging ring. The stands are full of hungry citizens, avidly watching one-ton slabs of beef that look like they've just come from the hairdressers.

Good things come in cans and jars from the Midi-Pyrenées region.

If France had a super-fancy car, I would say these cows are that model. America has this kind of car - limousin - and it is named after a French brand of cow. Having one of these cows parked outside your house would show that you are a person of class.

The people watching the judging - my guess is they are cow fanciers rather than mostly Parisians - get hungry, so after a long stint of looking at it on the hoof, they hoof it over to the other halls where the food is.

School is out on Wednesday afternoons, so it is a mixed army climbing stairs, non-working escalators, trudging over bridges, to get to the food. We all have to pass through a maze of a hall full of agricultural banks and insurance companies and research outfits, to get to Hall 3, which is only full of 'regional' food.

This is a laugh, because food doesn't originate in downtown Paris; all of it comes from 'regions,' one of which is the Ile-de-France which surrounds Paris. This is not Paris' 'breadbasket,' but it does well for snacks.

I don't know how it was arranged, but the first thing I run into in Hall 3 is the Confédération Paysanne - the Peasant's Confederation - and its nominal leader, José Bové - who was recently up at Davos for the world's annual fat-cat convention, and before that at the WTO jamboree-cum-riot thing in Seattle.

Monsieur Bové was shown on TV-news Sunday night trying to chat with the President of France, Jacques Chirac. This didn't look too successful because both of them were being sound-boomed and zoom-lensed by about 50 TV crews and the president's guys in suits. But Bové talks even if nobody can hear him. I see his lips move.

Anyway, today, even before I can get to the food I get to ask Monsieur Bové to stand still for 15 secondsphoto: peasants confederation, jose bove for the camera. In return I will repeat his message: "Good food is good for you."

'Bio' is a magic word in France these days, and I've told myself to be on the lookout for this. The exhibition has spread out a bit further this year, and its sign-posting isn't clear - so it is a bit of a struggle to transit from the 'regions' of Hall 3 to the 'regions' of Hall 7.1, which includes the region of 'bio.'

Monsieur José Bové of France's Confédération Paysanne, at the Salon de l'Agriculture today.

Somehow, 'bio' seems unable to escape looking boring. 'Bio' shops are the same. They are too serious. They have soothing pastel colors. French pharmacies, which are supposed to be serious, have all sorts of magical slimming creams - 'rub it on; rub fat off' - along with really serious medicines, but 'bio' is dull in comparison.

A 'bio' beef guy tells me it costs about 25 percent more. My sidekick today, Allan, who is a wine guy has already told me what 'bio' means in the vineyard - about 25 to 30 percent less usable grapes - but there are outfits in Champagne that are into its 'bio' version. This sort of Champagne is the ultimate in 'bio,' unless there is 'bio' caviar.

Besides the big brand-name houses, there are hundreds of small Champagne producers - who are essentially potential members of the Peasant's Confederation. Motto: "Three farms are worth more than one big one!"

We get washed up onto the Burgundy stand which seems to be in the midst of carnival, with its five cooks and a general uproar. We will see this again - thousands of people milling around in food heaven, and one particular stand being mobbed as if the bees have gone nuts.

Carnival is really going on because some of France's 'regions' are in the Caribbean and others are in the Indian Ocean. Between them, they have hot spices and lots of rum to go with their music, which none of the onshore 'regions' has.

Where the cows, sheep, goats, pigs and chickens are, is really peaceful. Where the edible food is I am tired of getting bumped, stepped on, tripping over cables and getting run over by baby strollers. The food seekers are great bargers - I guess they may be hungry.

Allan wants to 'chat Champagne' so we look around for this. Through my glassy eyes I spot 'Bouzy' and I steer Allan up to Jean Vesselle's stand, in the Champagne 'region,' which is not far east of Paris.

One time in Champagne, I found the place, Bouzy - just a village of a bus stop, grocery store and post office, and 26 Champagne producers - and continued ordering my Christmas supply from Vesselle thereafter. "How about a glass of Bouzy?"

These 26 are all small producers and the only place in Paris you might find Bouzy is at the Tour d'Argent or Maxim's, but Champagne people have a fraternity, so Allan and Daniel Lemainephoto: agri, bio food talk about dirt and humidity and bugs; the 'brut,' the 'brut Oeil de Perdrix,' and the non-dosed 'extra brut,' and I think they topped it off with 'brut prestige millésime.'

On a small acreage, if you do 'bio' you stand to get a crop 30 percent less. On top of it, if your neighbor isn't 'bio,' he will not only get more - his spray will hit your plants but your 'bio' won't affect his.

'Bio' food labels are not always colorful, and some of the ingrediants are not well-known.

All of this makes me reel. Where I live, between a full-time market street and a part-time street market - and with all of the dozens of specialty shops in between, there is so much attractive-looking and smelling food around that I am normally overwhelmed by choice.

To take time off from my neighborhood to come to this food fair seems like an overdose. I should have stayed in the cow barn. And now that I think of it, 'my' Champagne guy was Georges Vesselle and not Jean.

When it comes to food, France is an exceedingly particular place. Where else can you be in a bistro, where your dinner companions spend the whole time talking about meals in other places?

How everybody stopped eating long enough in France to have a revolution is a mystery. Most likely, nobody stopped eating at all - it was pulled off between meals.

In Metropole Paris
Latest Issue
2008 Issues
2007 | 2006 | 2005
2004 | 2003 | 2002
2001 | 2000 | 1999
1998 | 1997 | 1996
In Metropole Paris
About Metropole
About the Café Club
Links | Search Site
The Lodging Page
Paris Museums List
Metropole's 1996 Tours
Metropole's 2003 Tours
Support Metropole
Metropole's Books
Shop with Metropole
Metropole's Wine
metropole paris goodblogweek button
Send email concerning the
contents to: Ric Erickson, Editor.
Metropole Midi © 2014
– unless stated otherwise.
logo, metropole sml midi logo No matter how good it tastes,
there is no such thing
as a free lunch.
Waldo Bini