01 November 2013

Provence, 2013

While not as macabre as the gory scenes in the horror movie my sons watched with their friends last night in honor of Halloween, my local boucherie (butcher shop) is featuring brains, hearts, kidneys, necks, and intestines right now.  All parts of the lamb are available, including cervelle d'agneau (lamb's brain), coeur d'agneau (heart of lamb), rognons d'agneau (kidneys), as are pale legs of veal and filet mignon porc (what we call pork tenderloin in the U.S.).  The clerk at the butcher explained to me that it is butchering time. Some of the foods associated with this time are regional specialties from here in the South, such as pieds paquets (lamb's legs and tripe).  And not only this, it is also hunting season in France (last year at this time I first tasted wild boar, see Les plats traditionnels, Nov. 2012).  Sciolino of The New York Times Paris bureau describes the culinary excitement in Paris that comes with the annual start of this wild game season (see "Turning the Hunt into a Trip to the Market," The New York Times, Oct. 28, 2013).

At the Boucherie du Palais, Oct. 2013
Because of my family's sojourn in France where food and the eating of it are considered quintessential to the French way of life, food has been a topic more than once on my blog (see À table, May 2013, Où est le boeuf? February 2013, La cuisine fusion January 2013)  However, I haven't fully explained that there is a sociological specialty that considers how food and eating are intertwined with our social experiences, institutions, and structures. Food and its consumption is highly sociological because food has meaning not only on the personal level, but socially and culturally too.  What we eat, how we produce the food and process it for consumption, and how we eat it are all closely tied to who we are as individual and social beings and what we represent as societies.  The connections between society and food happen to be especially evident in France, with its tight seasonal and regional following of food and wine traditions, as represented by the autumnal dining focus on organ meats and wild game described above, and the myriad specialties associated with the different regions in France.  This week, I discovered in Marseille another specialty, this one associated with the Mediterranean part of France, a pan bagnat.   It's an excellent version of a tuna sandwich that comes from Nice, and it typically features bread moistened with olive oil, and olives, anchovies, and capers.  (Here's a recipe from the New York Times, "Pan Bagnat" by Melissa Clark, June 12, 2013.)

If you can avert your eyes from the outstanding view, the sandwich on the left tray is a pan bagnat
As we know, the French food culture has had foodies from elsewhere gushing and writing about it for decades.  Yet, France is not alone, nor is its culture frozen in place.  All societies have intimate connections to food, and they all have their food moments, when new processes, ideas and even new practices come about.  Just as societies evolve while retaining traditional elements, so do their foods and the rituals associated with them.  I've just picked up Luke Barr's Provence, 1970: M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, James Beard and the Reinvention of American Taste where he writes about a seminal moment in the evolution of the U.S. food culture, and in a more contemporary vein, I've casually been following the popular New York Times' food writer Mark Bittman's growing emphasis of vegetarian and vegan recipes over the past 2 1/2 years.  As it turns out, my family's French food moment, let's call it Provence, 2013, is ending soon, as we are returning to the U.S.  Bittersweet as that may be, it doesn't mark an end to my sociological observations of daily life. It just means that now I will see for myself if a vegetable-based food revolution is taking place in the U.S., and how that may be reflected in social terms.

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