Comprehension Check - Nicolas Sarkozy loses his cool over French food


The Times
February 25, 2008
Nicolas Sarkozy loses his cool over French food

The right way to make mayonnaise, cheese soufflé and foie gras will be protected by the UN if President Sarkozy’s latest ploy wins approval.
The French leader wants la cuisine française to be listed by Unesco, the UN agency, as part of the world’s cultural heritage.
At the opening of the annual Paris Agriculture Show, Mr Sarkozy said: “We have the best gastronomy in the world — at least from our point of view. We want it to be recognised among world heritage.”
Mr Sarkozy’s gesture in response to a two-year campaign by a group of leading chefs — who fear French cuisine is under threat from modern life and the global food industry — raised eyebrows because it stretches the meaning of a UN project to protect traditions in the developing world.

So far, these have included Indonesian dance and storytellers in Kyrgyzstan. In 2005 the cultural, educational and scientific wing of the UN, based in Paris, rejected a Mexican attempt to register its cuisine. It is considering an application from Iran to have the festival of Norouz, the Persian new year, recognised.

France has long been aggressive about defending its regional food names and also in claiming Unesco listing for its historical sites. More than 30 of these include the Loire Valley, Mont-Saint-Michel, Versailles and the Paris Seine embankments.

Mr Sarkozy’s announcement was overshadowed at home yesterday by a video of an incident at the farm show in which he swore at a man in the crowd who refused to shake his hand. […] The middle-aged man had told Mr Sarkozy that he did not want to dirty his hand.

The incident, in which Mr Sarkozy was booed by some farmers, reflected the President’s unpopularity and failure to connect with rural France, which was the darling of Jacques Chirac, his predecessor. While Mr Chirac would spend six hours slapping cows and tasting produce on the farm, Mr Sarkozy apologised for not having rural roots and looked uneasy as he staged a brief walkabout.

A poll for Le Journal du Dimanche yesterday showed that his approval rating had sunk by nine points to 38 per cent over the past month.

Mr Sarkozy told the farmers that he would use France’s six-month presidency of the EU, which starts in July, to launch an all-new Common Agriculture Policy that would protect French producers more. “I am convinced that it needs to be updated; redrawn,” Mr Sarkozy said, calling for an end to “conservatism and stagnation”. The promoters of the food initiative include the chefs Paul Bocuse, Alain Ducasse, Michel Guérard and Guy Savoy. Mr Savoy said that putting Gallic gastronomy on the list would protect artisan suppliers as well as famous restaurants. “You can talk about cuisine in numerous countries, but France is the only one to have such diversity and such possibilities for transforming the produce of local artisans,” he said. Le Figaro’s food critic said, however, that once French cuisine was listed, “opening the door of a restaurant, making a soufflé rise, shelling an oyster, will become part of cultural activity like going to sleep at the opera, yawning at the theatre or slumping over James Joyce’s Ulysses”.