French people are highly attached to their culinary heritage. 98.7% of French people think the French gastronomic meal has to be passed to future generations. But what exactly do French people mean when they talk about their food culture?
IT IS NOT JUST ABOUT FOOD
Is it our culture, our heritage, our gastronomy, our climate…? It is a combination of all these things. The famous “A table !”, which means that everyone should come, sit and eat together represents all those things in one : social habits, values, education and of course delicious food. The French culinary model, or as we prefer to call it – “French food culture” has particularly deep cultural roots. Great food is synonymous with a good life. For example, King Henry IV (1553-1610) famously stated, that his goal was for all French people to have a “poule au pot” (a type of meal with poultry) on their table every Sunday! The transmission of those eating habits and of cooking are strongly linked to family values. Half of French people have learned to cook with their family (mother, father, grand-mother…). All these cultural habits are gathered at one point, the meal.
THE MEAL: A SPECIAL MOMENT
French people spend an average of 2 hours per day sitting at a table, eating. A major symbol of this art of living, the meal, with its sharing dimension, remains a special moment. The tradition of having three daily meals is the heart of French eating habits, and a way to pass on values as well as a very important social time. The meal is a subtle combination of pleasure with great food, nutritional balance with the three courses served and education with the social habits revolving around it (how to behave, what to discuss).
At the same time, the gastronomic festival meal is a beloved tradition. In France, once a week, often on Sunday, a gastronomic lunch is shared with members of the family (grand-parents, cousins…) or with friends, spending hours to eat different, usually three, homemade courses. Important times in life (holidays, birthdays, weddings…) are celebrated with huge meals recognized in the nomination of the French Gastronomic meal as UNESCO intangible cultural heritage of humanity. The meal follows a very specific order: aperitif, starters, main course with meat or fish and vegetables, cheese, dessert, digestive. Having friends and family over for a meal has a strong significance: cooking is giving, and having a meal together is sharing. Frequently, when French people meet, they talk about food especially when they are eating! It is the perfect moment to learn more about products, their history, new recipes and to therefore pass on the culinary heritage.
GREAT PRODUCTS AND REGIONS AT THE HEART OF THE FOOD CULTURE
The choice of products is really important to French people; they pay attention to their origin, quality and diversity. Why would the origin matter? France is blessed with remarkable geographic and climatic diversity. A product coming from a special part of France represents the best of what that region has to offer. It is more than just geography; people over the years have developed special skills which make some products like cheese inimitable in other regions. It is as much cultural as a question of taste.
Food is part of each regions history, and continuing to use it or cook them in a special way is preserving this heritage. As for the quality of products, a good meal cannot be cooked without great ingredients. French cuisine is about making the best out of every product, by trying to amplify the taste and not to hide it with something else. Moreover, a great product can be simply cooked (boiled, or just with a little bit of butter or olive oil) leading to a healthier way of eating. As for diversity, it is essential! Varying the taste allows to better enjoy the food and is the base of a balanced diet!
A WILL TO PRESERVE THIS AMAZING HERITAGE
French people have a desire to preserve this heritage. With modern life, keeping those habits alive seems more difficult with the development of ready to eat products, or having less time to cook and eat. But French people deeply want to preserve this heritage. Therefore public policies have tried to promote them, because our eating habits often lead to a healthy diet and because it is our history. As a consequence, one of the four priorities of the National French Food Program is to promote our culinary heritage. To achieve this goal, various actions have been carried out, like the development of quality and origin labels, or the creation of a compilation of regional food and recipes. France has also succeeded in having the Gastronomic Meal nominated as UNESCO Intangible cultural heritage of humanity, making it the first food ritual to get this title! All those actions are completed by a public desire to preserve this heritage with for example, the event the Week of Taste, held every year with one goal : to fight for taste!