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Shvitz Exclusive: Grey Goose

With the ban on foie gras taking effect in Chicago soon (revelers will have to transport themselves to oh-so-distant Evanston to enjoy the forbidden goose liver), it seems that French nationalistic and anti-American politics will once more find a scapegoat … Read More

By / April 27, 2007

With the ban on foie gras taking effect in Chicago soon (revelers will have to transport themselves to oh-so-distant Evanston to enjoy the forbidden goose liver), it seems that French nationalistic and anti-American politics will once more find a scapegoat to justify itself. Recall that just a week ago, amidst the many candidates to the presidential election, one was proudly standing up for “hunting, fishing, and traditions” (and against Europe) while a couple of others branded themselves as the representatives of workers and French traditions (and against Europe).

There may well be a sizable portion of the (urbanite) French population that has some decent, humane standards as to the treatment of animals (the making of foie gras involves stuffing food down the animal’s gullet in a rather brutal fashion) and perhaps even of humans. However, I doubt that the vast majority of the population cares more about the suffering of animals than about the delicacy of the meal. Granted, they may not even know or think about the suffering, but it seems to me that the problem runs deeper than that.

To your good Frenchman (read: not Jewish, or very much assimilated; not black; not Arab; probably not a woman; etc.), the point is to show the superiority of France over the rest of the world by refusing to abide by any laws that anybody else might have proposed first, especially if they threaten to harm a good French tradition. The foie gras is not by far the grossest of culinary traditions: in my judgment, this distinction would probably go to the ortolans, which indeed King President Mitterrand would consume in the Elysian palace with I am sure much more delight due to the fact that the food was banned by the E.U. The irony of having an illegal meal served by military policemen was certainly not lost on any of the high-ranking officials at the table, and despite the denials issued after the publication of the episode, you can bet that the French were as unfazed by it as they were by the revelation of the extramarital family of their head of state.

It seems indeed to be a French constant that whatever the rest of the world discovers first, must be ignored, even if it’s French in origin (talk to any French scholar about Jacques Derrida), and whatever originates in France and is criticized by the rest of the world must be upheld at all costs. (Does that remind you of another European country at all?) This global ambition of France, enshrined in the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Men, belies the anti-globalization movement over there. It seems in fact that the acculturation model the French think is best for themselves (as I mentioned before, Sarkozy, Royal and Bayrou, the three leading candidates to the presidential election, all still believe in the Fifth Republic) is what they also consider best for the world. Colonization must be pursued by “culturation.” Hence the outrage at non-paté eaters; hence the laïc approach to religion which in fact is simply opposing anything but a tamed-down catholicism; hence also the radical anti-Semitism directed against that most cosmopolitan figure of all.

There is still, it is to be feared, a French desire for universal conquest. One could certainly mock it if it were not for a centralization of powers in one man (and it won’t be much better even if it were to become one woman) who benefits from the belief in the homme providentiel concept initiated by de Gaulle and for de Gaulle himself. This leads to many paradoxes of a pseudo realpolitik which pretends to advance the cause of civilization when in fact caring only for the petty needs of one national population —oil (Arab politics of France), energy in the form of uranium (African politics of France), etc., down to the celebrated foie gras, mark of the exceptional French gastronomy, which would serve its PR function for France just like it did during the years of the monarchy.

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