Friday, 5 July 2013

Abroad thoughts from home

I have just returned from a holiday in France.  They do things differently there.  We were dining in our hotel in the charming village of Alet-les-bains, in the Languedoc-Roussillon region when an English couple at the next table asked whether they might have a glass of champagne as an aperitif.  The waiter was polite but unequivocal.  No, this was impossible.  Why?  Because we were not in Champagne.  Glasses of Blanquette de Limoux, the local sparkling wine were, however, forthcoming.  The English customers were quite obviously bemused.  They had simply been seeking a sparkling wine when they asked for “champagne” and had no intention of causing an international incident.  But the French take regional food and wine extremely seriously.  For them, eating locally is not about food miles or carbon footprints but about tradition and being true to the terroir.  It is self-evident to them that the food and wine from a particular region go together, and who could argue with the matching of cassoulet with the fruity reds of Languedoc where it originated, or mineral-tangy Sancerre with goat’s cheese from the same region.  That isn’t to say that French wines can never be drunk with other foods of course.  Alsace wines complement spicy dishes from across the world, and wine producers are keen to sell beyond their regional and national borders.  At the same time there is still a deep sense of locality and a desire to consume local produce in France.  Perhaps it is because even now very many French people, even if they are living in cities, still have a sense of rural roots, of family who produced this food and wine, just a couple of generations ago.  It is something we have generally lost in the UK.  This is not just true for France, of course.  My colleague at the Centre for Rural Economy, Menelaos Gkartzios, has been investigating these rural roots in his native Greece, and researching the phenomenon of urban dwellers migrating back to the countryside in response to the economic situation.  Many are taking advantage of the family networks that are still strong in southern Europe.  In Britain we are not, at the moment, in such dire straits.  If we were we would not be able to return to the countryside as an escape from unemployment and poverty.  Here it is more often the refuge of the well-off retiree.  Perhaps the loss of a sense of local food identity goes along with this.    

1 comment:

  1. Reminds me of being in Blackfriars restaurant when a very posh couple (definitely not Geordies) asked what 'Pan Haggerty' was. The waiter described it as 'a kind of potatoes Dauphinoise'. My old mum would have laughed...