France's sparkling reputation as the food destination is turning out to be the greatest farce ever perpetrated against humanity. After a summer that revealed that French chefs are serving factory-made meals, comes the startling revelation that French people are eating less French bread, perhaps the most recognizable sign of their culinary heritage.
It is widely believed that French people love their bread, which is why there's a best baguette competition every year, which produces awesome pictures of people sniffing bread (above), not to mention an actual winner of this charming baking contest.
And yet. And yet. Not all is as rosy (or yeasty, if you will) as you might think. The New York Times's Elaine Sciolinio explains the decline of the oblong loaf of bread:
The average Frenchman these days eats only half a baguette a day compared with almost a whole baguette in 1970 and more than three in 1900. Women, still the main shoppers in most families, eat about a third less than men, and young people almost 30 percent less than a decade ago.
The reasons behind the decline, Sciolinio says, are severalfold. Some say it's because French people are busier and can't stop into bakeries, others point to the stigma that carbs have carried for the last decade or so. But Sciolinio consulted France's bread guru, Steven L. Kaplan, who blames the baguette's demise on the fact that, well, the baguette just doesn't taste as good as it could.
The decline in quality started in 1920 with the transition from slow breadmaking with a sourdough base to a quick process using yeast. Mechanization in the 1960s contributed to the making of bread that lacked taste and aroma.
Kaplan believes that in order for baguettes to find their way back to the table and, from there, into the stomachs of French people, it will need to hitch a ride on the shoulders of artisanal bakers who are making delicious, crusty, hand-made breads.
He doesn't seem to believe in France's "Coucou, tu as pris le pain? ("Hi there, have you picked up the bread?:) campaign, modeled after our own popular "Got Milk?" ads. "It’s asking people to buy bread as part of their routine, like washing your hands or brushing your teeth ... We need to celebrate breads that make your taste buds dance," Kaplan said. And the majority of French bread out there, it seems, isn't doing that.