Blondes d'Aquitaine Have More Fun

photo: french cow 1

The Agricultural Salon's 'Beautiful Cow of the Week.'

Some Brewery Blondes Have Fun Too

Paris:- Wednesday, 21. February 2001:- If you read the papers, listen to radio or watch TV, you'd think Parisians are starving on account of all the tainted food we have here.

Yet, the annual Agricultural Salon is on, and it is packed to the rafters - with Parisians, the French, other Europeans, and visiting farmers from all over the world. They are at the salon looking for new food sensations and actually eating them.

The papers say the exhibitors are 'morose.' The cattlemen with prize- winning animals do not know what to do with them - not the prizes and not the animals.

I guess the public isn't reading the papers, listening to the radio or watching TV. Today they are at the 'beautiful cow show' in huge masses, droves - may I say? - in herds. The exhibition rings are full of competitors and the grandstands are full of onlookers, cheeringtheir favorite cows on to grand prizes.

These can't all be the relatives and friends of farmers. Farmers only amount to four percent of the working population in France, and fully ten percent of France's whole population will end up visiting this food show before it ends next Sunday.

It looks like all the stops have been pulled out when it comes to telling people - especially kids - where theirphoto: french cowboy food comes from, and how. Having a giant milk bar between the two show rings in the giant Hall One at Paris-Expo - where tractors were in past years - seems like targeted PR aimed to hit the mark.

A Paris 'cowboy,' leading a contestant back to its bed of fresh straw after being judged in the show ring.

For foreign visitors, the MC in the smaller show-ring is doing the intros for the prize cows in French and - nearly flawless - English. "These Montbéliardes are - very feminine," he shouts into his mike. They look like buffalos, fresh from the hairdressers' - to me.

Other cows, beeves, whatever they are - look sleeker. The Limousins have everything except white-wall tires. One I try to photo - 'Lolita number 1011,' is the heaviest lady, at 1281 kilos - of the Blondes d'Aquitaine. With names like these, it could seem like cannibalism to eat one, like making a dinner of a tasty aunt.

Meanwhile, outside the salon, France is busily whacking off all of its cattle population over 30 months in age. This is in response to 'mad cow' disease, which - due to hysteria created by the media, has dumped the wholesale price levels for beef - which has created a gigantic market glut - which buraucrats have decided to literally destroy

Even though taxpayers will pay for all this, the cattle will be eliminated - so that taxpayers can continue paying the old retail prices too - or even more! - providedphoto: restaurant bio they have the courage to eat beef.

Cattlemen are being compensated for the loss, but not at former or even present market rates. Some are so sick of the whole business that they are abandoning the business entirely.

Restaurant with 'viande biologique' does as well as other restaurants with perfectly ordinary meat. I forget to check its prices though.

Others, who have always hand-fed their cattle every blade of grass they've ever eaten, are taking whopping losses on every animal they sell. At the retail level, in contrast, prices are rising. Consumers are turning to vegetables. The whole thing is insane.

For example, in addition to some industrial furnaces, France is even looking at cemetery crematoriums as a possible means to incinerate some of the cattle it's destroying. But this will release carcinogens into the air - and even the leftover ashes can't simply be buried because they are highly toxic too.

The ashes are being stored, temporarily, until it can be figured out what to do with them. Since no solution is on hand for dealing with nuclear waste either, here is another dangerous mountain of garbage we are going to have to get used to living with.

I'm afraid this is the hangover after the new-millennium party. Just when we were congratulating ourselves for getting out of the 20th century alive, we might have to revise our perspectives - because the people who were dumb enough to get us into this mess, are still around.

It is exactly this that has put the push behind 'bio' everything. The idea is to eat 'good stuff' - at least until we are all overcome by our previously-produced poisons, I suppose.

In France, besides 'bio,' we also have the Peasant's Confederation - which is all for 'bio' of course - but is also a movement promoting the idea that small-scale farmers have a fundamentalphoto: baguette bio right to make a living from farming - and to hell with any sort of industrialized 'economies of large-scale.'

There are several reasons why a movement like this can be popular in France, where the average family may spend 25 percent of its income on its 'food basket,' as opposed to maybe six or seven percent in the United States.

Strangely, 'bio' baguettes look exactly the same as plain, old standard ones.

Food in France isn't just more expensive, many people are willing to pay a lot for it. Maybe not all the time, but often enough. Everybody knows where to get 15 percent off on perfume and 20 percent off on sweaters, but when it comes to the Christmas 'capon,' nobody is looking for bargain turkeys.

A visiting farmer has told me they all go and see the cows first, like I do, and then the second thing they want to see at the salon is the growing 'bio-food' section.

If you fly across oceans and continents, getting from Hall One through the maze of other halls and past about 25,000 people and their kids to get to Hall Four, is not such a big deal even if it is a long haul too.

About halfway, where Hall 2.2 joins Hall Three, the Peasants' Confederation has its stand - in the same place as last year, as well as looking exactly like last year's stand.

What might be different this year, is that the UN's food unit, the FAO, is opposite it - apparently by pure chance. Working together with the UN's health unit, the WHO, the two organizations have concocted a 'Codex Alimentarius' - which is supposed to have set norms for food on a worldwide basis.

I neglect to find out if France's Peasant's Confederation is on the same wavelength with the FAO, and I doubt if I could have, because I find all of this too complex.

The regional food exhibitors' stands begin in Hall Three and continue in Hall Four. These are the exhibitors who bring a good deal of France's regional food to Paris at least once a year, so these halls are where 90 percent of all visitors to the salon intend to spend some quality feeding-themselves time.

If you haven't brought enough money to be hungry you should stay away from these halls, because the only things in the way of 'free samples' are very tiny.

In addition to all the stands representing regional specialties, there are regional restaurants. By the time I arrive it is long past lunch time. The restaurants that are still pretty full represent Alsace, Perigord, Aveyron - the heavy-duty-food regions - and the all-region 'bio' restaurant is as full as any of these too.

And what do you know, but three of France's biggest supermarket chains have very big 'bio' stands, with two working 'bio' bakeries that I see.

Well, I guess bread is the bottom line and in France the baguette is the country's number one basic food item. In its 'bio' version at the salon, this long, thin loaf weighing the standard 250 grams, costs six francs.

At one of my local boulangeries, the standard baguette costs four francs forty. This then, is the price of 'bio.' It seems to be a premium of about 25 percent.

Small wonder visiting farmers are interested in it. Small wonder that at four this afternoon, there is a long line waiting to get their chance to try one supermarket's free - but tiny! - samples of their 'bio' products.

This alters the 'bottom line' somewhat. Parisians will try to eat anything.

One final item - this year the fast-food giant McDonalds has a big stand in Hall One, where the animal breeding isphoto: french cow 2 on display. According to the papers, the Peasants' Confederation is supposed to be very annoyed about this - because McDonalds is considered to be a symbol of all that is wrong with the food industry.

All French cows now carry licence plates stapled inside their ears.

The Peasants' leader-spokesman, José Bové, is currently awaiting sentencing after being convicted of 'deconstructing' a new McDonalds outlet under construction in central France.

McDonalds is at the salon for the first time this year because it buys its beef in France, and because it has seen its hamburger sales slump drastically with the 'mad cow' scare.

Although McDonalds is on a different side of the fence from the Peasants, it is in the same boat with all the farmers. They are even trying out a variety of cheeseburgers on the public - without any 'burger' in them. They have also introduced a café staple called the 'croque monsieur' - which is the French version of a toasted cheese-and-ham sandwich.

It probably goes great with a 'bio' beer or two. A 'blonde' one of course.

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