Is a culinary revolution about to take place in France, the meat-loving country par excellence? They have been urged to adopt a flexitarian diet, cutting their animal food intake for the sake of their health, animal welfare and reducing the carbon impact on the planet? A decade ago this recommendation from the local branch of the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) would have been laughed off, but the French are increasingly turning away from Steak Frites, Magret de Canard and other traditional dishes in favour of meat-free fare.
The WWF proposed a 187 Euro weekly food basket for a family of 4 that included 31 per cent less meat, 40 per cent less wild fish and 69 per cent less factory processed food, compared with a standard basket. The difference was made up mainly by vegetables including cereals, pulses and items made from whole grain flour. ‘It’s possible to change our eating habits without waiting,’ Pascal Carfin, Director of WWF, France, said. ‘It’s good for health, for the planet and it does not cost more.’
The WWF menu follows recommendation from the State Food and Health Safety Agency this year to cut red meat consumption to about 5 servings a week, including no more than 25 gm. of charcuterie – advice that was greeted in some quarters as anti-patriotic. The move away from meat and processed food, which is marked among the younger urban classes, has been driven by health reasons, plus revelations of extreme cruelty in slaughter houses around the country. Only 3 per cent of French people are vegetarians, but up to 10 per cent are flexitarians, meaning that they have reduced meat intake heavily, according to Elodie Vielle Blanchard, head of the Vegetarian Association of France. Vegetarian restaurants which were almost unknown in France in the last century are multiplying.
Meat producers and butchers are fighting back against the animal rights campaign that they believe is driving the French away from their traditional menu. Breeders have used force to evict protestors at livestock fairs and a farmers’ union has launched a campaign with the slogan ‘Save a small farmer. Eat a Vegan’. Knowing the French as I do, I find it very difficult to believe, as it is now assumed, that they will dump their foie gras for puy lentils as they are being urged to do.
The French are not easily dissuaded. Only Time will tell.