French Food Politics
French headlines have been abuzz with controversy over the past two weeks following provocative allegations from far right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen. In February Le Pen stated that all meat being sold in supermarkets in Paris was halal.
The claims have since been refuted by Parisian authorities and abattoirs.¹ It has been recognised by many as no more than a scaremongering technique employed by Le Pen to play upon fears of a growing Muslim influence in the country. Irrespective, the force of the reaction of the Parisian public and the level of attention all of the presidential candidates have paid to the subject is puzzling. Particularly so in light of far more important issues like achieving financial stability in the wake of a global crisis and Paris St-Germain leading the Ligue 1.
So why all the bother about meat?
Meat prepared according to Halal methods requires, amongst other directions, a ban on stunning the animal prior to killing it. To meet halal requirements, the animal must be alive at the time of slaughter. This is considered by some animal rights groups to be a less humane practice than standard European slaughter methods.
And whilst ‘vegetarian’ may no longer be a dirty word in France, it is widely recognised that the country remains largely indifferent on the subject of animal welfare. As such, it is difficult to imagine a pure animal rights issue receiving quite so much air time.
… And let’s not forget we’re talking about the country that until the late 1990s endorsed the serving of ortolan, a small songbird who is captured, force fed and then drowned in Armagnac prior to being roasted and eaten whole.
So if it’s not about cruelty to animals, then what is it about?
Yes, consumers should have the right to make informed decisions about what food they choose to feed their families. But how often do we ask the girl behind the counter at the local ‘McDo’ what happened to the steak haché before it arrived in a Big Mac, or how much space the poulet rôti had to run around in before he was killed?
Perhaps it’s less knowing what happened to the animal prior to appearing on the Carrefour shelf and more thinking that a religious group may be doing something dans l’obscurité that has people talking.
Isabelle Veyrat-Masson of public research institute CRNS put it like this: “The extreme right wants to talk about immigration. The problem is how to talk about it without seeming racist. If you talk about halal meat, that’s perfect – it’s about eating.”²
Le Pen is openly anti-Islamisation but claims she is not anti-Islam, and her concern centres upon protecting the French secular tradition – a tradition which protects by law the right to produce foie gras.³
It feels counter-intuitive that force-feeding ducks and geese is permissible, even essential to French culture, but keeping a cow alive while it is killed is not. Indeed one could argue that the period of suffering is prolonged in the birds’ case.
Wherever you sit on this issue one thing is for sure, Le Pen, and by extension her colleagues, has been successful in injecting some fervour and excitement into what has otherwise been a fairly unexceptional political race.References:
¹’France – Halal meat and French President Nicolas Sarkozy’, 11 March 2012 for Meat Trade News Daily.
²’In French campaign, halal and kosher meat become key issue’, Michael J. Strauss, 15 March 2012 for ENI News.
³The French rural code L654-27-1 states that “Foie gras belongs to the protected cultural and gastronomical heritage of France.” Image credits:
1. Filtran on Flickr
2. Nicolas Patte on Flickr
3. desatur8 on Flickr
4. Zdenko Zivkovic on Flickr
It is such a great article Alison. I like the contrast you make between the French torturing ducks for foie-gras without finding anything wrong about it, and all the fuss around cows killed for halal a few weeks ago. Clearly Marine Le Pen’s statement aimed at scaring people and therefore advertising her campaign. It is a shame that some believe her and grow intolerant towards the Muslims.