Why the big controversy over Sarkozy’s proposition that French food be part of UNESCO’s cultural heritage? No one would argue that French cuisine isn’t one of the first things people think of when conjuring up France. I mean, come on, it’s the country of countless cheeses, boeuf bourgignon, savory sauces often made with regional produce, tarte aux pommes, soufflé au chocolat. Need I go on? The cuisine ranks up there with the tricolor flag, the Revolution and the Loire Valley. More likely the difficulty lies in the fact that cuisine is not really a site or monument, and if France’s cuisine qualifies, why not that of India or Brésil?
From UNESCO's website:
“One of UNESCO's mandates is to pay special attention to new global threats that may affect the natural and cultural heritage and ensure that the conservation of sites and monuments contributes to social cohesion.”
I couldn’t agree more that France’s cuisine is a part of its heritage and that there are indeed threats to this cuisine, be they global, national or at a community level. While I love France and her cuisine, where I differ from Sarkozy is that I think all or most countries have this patrimoine or heritage. Think New Orleans’s Jambalaya, Spanish Paella, Indian Saag hcoley, Texas or Cincinnati chili, German sauerbraten, even if they don't make your mouth water as perhaps a mousse au chocolat might.
If these cuisines from all over the globe are threatened, perhaps communities, and not just nations, could apply for UNESCO aid. The aid could be in the form of money being set aside for local chefs or volunteers to give classes on regional cooking.
In a way, this is what is being done right now here in Paris, and other cities throughout France. As part of the Accueil des Villes Françaises (AVF), members can join groups that meet to explore the city, see movies together, play tennis or bridge, and many more interesting activities. The AVF in Paris is largely a francophone group, but it does provide language conversation classes for those interested in practicing English, French and Spanish. And finally, one of the best kept secrets of Paris is the AVF’s French cooking classes. One Thursday a month the smallish group, no more than 6 people, meets at a volunteer’s home. It is in the person’s kitchen that we see, taste and learn the culinary heritage of France. Among the tasty delights we’ve had privy to include magret de canard, medallions de veau, salade des endives, and a fluffy rich dessert called vacherin.
In fact, I think culinary heritage is not the only thing being regained through the AVF. It gives people a sense of community and a sense of place which can be elusive, especially in such a technologically advanced age. It brings people together to learn about a city or region’s cultural, culinary and recreational heritage.
So I say to President Sarkozy, go ahead and apply for a UNESCO heritage protection for French cuisine. But let’s not reserve this opportunity for France alone, but any country or region that feels threatened by loss of culture, be it culinary, artisanal or otherwise. And let it happen through community organizations like the AVF which provides a structure that brings people together to learn about their heritage, as well as to have fun.