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Exploring French Food Culture: From Elites to Modernity

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September 3, 2023

This is a summary of "Les Français et leur culture alimentaire : approche 'historique', exploring the art of dining in France from its beginnings influenced by the elites and its allure to foreigners, to the success of French cuisine throughout history, the pursuit of authentic flavors, and finally, the modernity of the food industry coexisting with traditional practices.

The Success of French Cuisine

The success of French cuisine is described through collections published towards the end of the Middle Ages, finding an affluent audience in France and later embraced by a European elite. The cuisine evolves and becomes more modern, with Paris as a gastronomic capital where the dining table plays a significant role in diplomatic relations. During the French Revolution, it becomes more accessible to the public. Then, in the Belle Époque, excessiveness diminishes.

The Quest for True Taste

While peasant society relied on bread and water, medieval elites sought spicy and acidic flavors. Salty and sweet flavors were initially mixed, then separated, with sugar consumed after savory dishes. Butter went through phases of acceptance and rejection. Subsequently, consumers prioritize products from organic farming or even their own gardens, seeking the genuine taste of food. Despite this preference, the organic market remains relatively small: in 2018, only about 5% of household food consumption came from organic agriculture.

The Modernity of the French Model

This evolution takes place in a society where food has become an industry. A significant portion of what we eat is processed, even fruits and vegetables are standardized, packaged, and labeled. Supermarkets have conquered the landscape, offering a range of products to the entire population. This modernity doesn't erase local and culinary peculiarities, nor the continuity of ancestral practices like open-air food markets, crucial social moments in rural and urban areas. Farmers' markets for regional products, for instance, are highly appreciated. Today's consumer is versatile, composing meals from both agri-food industry and fresh products. Despite the prevalence of fast food, the ritual of the three main meals a day remains, often enjoyed in company, serving to maintain health. It's a beautiful paradox where the pleasure of eating together contributes to well-being.