Fear and Loathing in France: An American in Belfort

Dec 8, 2008 by

When I lived in France, one day at the grocery store in Belfort I heard English and saw what I surmised to be a newly arrived American exchange student with her French host mom. The girl had a look of fear and loathing on her face, something like Indiana Jones in the cave full of snakes. Their shopping cart was full of noodles, corn flakes, and other packaged items recognizable as edible to Americans.

Ou est le beurre de cacahuet? [Where is the peanut butter?]” I heard the host mother tensely ask a clerk. The poor girl insisted on her familiar foods. I felt for her, as the closest McDonald’s was an hour’s drive away.  It was something to behold in the land of the world’s finest cuisine.

A French grocery store—or worse, a small food market—can be frightening.  All that moldy, raw milk cheese, harboring live bacteria. Fish and fowl, still wearing their fins, feathers, heads.

Our exchange student probably found little to reassure her in the French home, either.  Especially in more rural areas, the earthiness only intensifies. Some French people contrive to make their own cheese or yogurt. Even our Paris cousins have been known to concoct their own alcoholic drinks somehow at home with the walnuts grown at their parents’ in the country. It is, for some sensibilities, all just a little too close to nature.

The French are a bit behind in the modern advances, I suppose. Our sanitized, safe foods, many steps comfortably removed from their origin–breaded fish sticks, chicken “fingers,” pasteurized, processed cheese foods–let us avoid facing where foods come from. Our processed foods, while they may not nourish us or win our deep affection, at least won’t kill us, at least not immediately, anyway.

© Sacred Appetite  / Anna Migeon – December 8, 2008 – All Rights Reserved