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Baguettes-to-go

Yes, one of the last bastions is sliding steadily into the global monoculture gutter. It's true: France gets its first drive-thru boulangerie (that's a bakery, but oh-so-much-more in French culture.)

France has adopted fast-food ideas from the United States to cater to millions of foreign tourists and its residents, but they co-exist alongside traditions such as proper sit-down meals in restaurants and daily trips to local boulangeries.

Read the rest in the APF

I used to laugh off these things as inconsequential. And I can even see a croissant-to-go as being convenient, especially for those long haul drives to the South. But a more troubling thing lurks beneath the surface of this trivial, perversely amusing anecdote. I'm starting to understand the pushback in France, and Europe in general to these kinds of influences. I'm beginning to see what's driving super-empowered angry people like Jose Bove, the infamous McDonald's-burning, anti-globalization activist, to such feverish lengths. And this is not out of any Gaullic solidarity; I have none. No, this bugs me because it smells of monoculture, and monocultures are just suboptimal and demonstrably bad. Any student of complex adaptive systems will tell you that.

Sure, the global monoculture dance is two-ways. In spice-phobic Paris, I'm grateful for regular access to sushi, tom yum gai, and a passable tika masala. I'm just worried we've gone too far at a structural level. I worry that some critical reservoirs of difference, different models for doing things, are disappearing and being leveled. I especially worry because our globalized agriculture system is increasingly brittle and fragile, as evidenced by many troubling signals and symptoms – e.g. foot & mouth, mad cow, SARS, declining soil productivity, and so on. (See my essay, Getting into the Dirt) If I was a betting person, I'd said future inevitable surprises, big failures and disruptions, will come from this system.

As much as it gets ridiculed, places like France have some deep wisdom we should surface, understand, and preserve: they know about the advantages of local production – the deep connections between local food, the land and communities – through thousands of years of culture. This is one of those culture-is-embedded-knowledge situations. (It's by no accident the world "culture" is derived from "cultivation.") Unfortunately, today I see these connections rapidly uncoupling thanks to a variety of drivers: demand from younger generations, EU regulations and common market pressures, and business models requiring scale, scope and aggressive growth targets.

But for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, or at least I hope that's the case. I hear that local production is getting new legs in North America. Is this true? I'm told that the farmer's market phenomenon is growing beyond the usual Californian conclaves. So this is good news. However, experts in local production say the biggest problem is making the economics and business model work, which is a stretch beyond dense urban centres. Vintage hog farmers in West Virginia are great, but if they can't make a good living out of it because of scale and distribution (how to get to market) and demand issues (consumers wary of weird kinds of pigs), this is unlikely to take off. So do people know of examples where local production is working? What are practical, high leverage solutions to balancing the forces of monoculture?

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Comments

How long since you've lived in the States, Nicole-Anne?

Farmers markets are popular here in NYC and have been for a while, and this is part of a nationwide flourishing. They feature local producers and the bigger ones run year round with some or other goods (apples seem like a staple). The food is excellent--my dinner this evening was a cucumber-tomato-green pepper salad and fresh corn on the cob, all from the Union Square Greenmarket.

Here's a USDA guide to farmer's markets nationwide:

http://www.ams.usda.gov/farmersmarkets/map.htm


Posted by: Emily Gertz on 2 Aug 04

Two different groups are trying to get a food policy started for NYC according to a NYTimes article of Wednesday, July 21, 2004 called "Eat Your Vegetables; Easier Said Than Done" by Julia Moskin. They are trying to go beyond farmers markets to larger wholesale/retail markets for larger adn more growers.

In Massachusetts, we went from 12 to 18 farmers markets in 1975 to over 100 markets today. We've increased the number of farmers while acreage in crops have still declined. Many restaurants now serve, proudly, locally grown foods in season and build their menus around them.
The Chef's Collaborative and the Slow Food Movement are alive and well in this area.

Burlington, Vermont is probably one of the most progressive cities on this issue. They've integrated agriculture into their economic development plan and call for growing 10% of their food within the city limits within a few more years.

One upon a time, I was part of an initiative here in MA to plant food-bearing trees and bushes on public access lands, the Fruition Program. I've watched as most of the plantings I worked on have disappeared from ignorance and neglect, including the stand of raspberries, gooseberries, and currants that the new community garden coordinator neglected to tell volunteers about as they built a new fence. Used to be, I could eat grapes, gooseberries, strawberries, currants, and other fruits as I walked around my neighborhood. It's still possible, if people want to do it.


Posted by: gmoke on 2 Aug 04

"Unfortunately, today I see these connections rapidly uncoupling thanks to a variety of drivers"

pun intended? :-)


Posted by: adrian cotter on 3 Aug 04

Local grown food is far from just a farmers market kind of thing. We have local grown chicken local grown pork local grown beef local grown foods used in supermarket branded lines of food and so on. Global food and local food is used where each has its advantage and place.

Just because something came from argentina doesnt make it wrong any more then just because farmer bob grew it down the street doesnt make it best or better.

Heck even the local mc d around here gets alot of its beef from local suppliers.


Posted by: wintermane on 3 Aug 04

Greetings

The web pages for newfarm.com have links for farmers markets across the country (OPX, right side of page) and what the prices are for various foods. Another comment too "Getting into the Dirt" check out the work of Dr. Elaine Ingham (soilfoodweb.com), on how respond to unsustainable soil practices (she has the science overview), Alan Savory (holisticmanagement.org) has the critical decision(s) process over view. Savorys work like Inghams is in use in America, Australia & Africa, (individual, village & very small corporate) it seems politically untenatable in much of Asia (North west Asia and east Asia) there is some awareness fo Inghams work in northwest Asia (lab in Hilversum
The Netherlands) .


Posted by: Terence Dodge on 4 Aug 04

I don't think this will create a monoculture. Would you complain that everyone being able to live in a home with electricity, lighting, plumbing, clean water is creating a monoculture? People in India, the US and Latin America read books made from paper, is this a monoculture?

The quote said that the drive-thru place exists with traditions like "proper sit-down meals in restaurants and daily trips to local boulangeries" this means that France just became more diverse in terms of choices. In fact this American concept has been adapted to French ways. Everyone wins.


Posted by: lindenen on 6 Aug 04



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