One of the amazing things about France is the quantity and quality of small agricultural producers. Unlike the United States, France has not made the transition to overwhelming industrial production of food. One of the side effects of a decentralised food production system is that a large diversity of foods can be grown in relative small areas, avoiding the homogeneity of large producers. So in Brittany alone, one can get carrots, squashes, onions, potatoes, apples, artichokes, pears, lettuce, beans, herbs, beer, cheese, sea food and so many others. In fact, the greatest lack is wine. Grapes and wine are not produced in Brittany which means it has to be exported from the south of France. Regardless, I was stunned at the almost entire local diet one could have here. For example:
Yesterday I had a lunch of buckwheat crepes (Breton Crepes), local goat cheese, local ham, mussels cook in butter and shallots (all local), salad of beets, greens, and potatoes (all local except the balsamic vinaigrette), cider and bread. Everything was local except the vinaigrette. Because the French have a tradition of having market days, farmers have the opportunity to sell their produce every week (often more than once due the market days in other nearby towns). There’s just an exceptional local diversity, local butchers, local bakeries, and generally everything is pretty good quality. We went to a butchers 3 days ago and got the most delicious beef pate (Like meatloaf, but smoother, spreadable over a piece of bread). It was all so very very delicious.
Additionally, yesterday I went out to hunt for sea snails. Supposedly they’re very edible and very delicious. They are cooking as I write this and smell wonderful.
Anyways, some interesting things I learned about the milieu.
Most of French cheese is industrially created and for some varieties there are only 2-3 individuals who still produce the cheese in the traditional and correct process (in otherwords, produce the ‘real’ variety of cheese). In fact, industrial products are becoming more and more common as people buy pizzas to reheat and prefer predictable fruits and vegetables.
A great example of this is in pig production in France. Many individuals raise pigs in Brittany, often only 10-20 animals at a time, but there are some operations as well. While all pigs produce copious amounts of pig shit, smaller operations are better equipped to deal with the quantities that are produced; easily transferable to use as manure on crops. Yet, for huge commercial operations, the quantities of manure produced often exceed the possible uses (additionally, like most industrial methods), pigs are tightly packed and sanitation and humane consideration are often 2nd or 3rd rate priorities. When rain arrives as it frequently does here, some of this manure, containing nitrates, is washed into nearby watersheds. So, the French government has in place certain regulations of how much nitrate can be found in a water-system. A few years ago it was around 20mg per 1 liter. When nitrate abundance exceeded these limits the French government simply raised the legal proportion to 50 mg.
politics don’t change much no matter where you go.
So, I have one day left in Daoulas. Tomorrow, I’m off to Toulouse and then into the mountains for three weeks. It’s been absolutely wonderful with Astrid and Bruno. They’ve been so welcoming, I feel like it’s home already. I know that the French are supposed to be cold and unfriendly towards americans, but like every stereotype it has it’s examples, but more accurately, the French are human beings like everyone else. 98% of the French I have met here have been welcoming, inviting, interested in what I did in Africa and generally really kind people. There is a cultural presence of being somewhat detached (I discussed this with Astrid and Bruno) and that could give the impression of arrogance (if one is already expecting it), but it often is found more in the cities. Because many Americans do only visit the cities (higher percentages of people who speak English and all of the tourist attractions) our perception might be skewed, as if tourists to America only visited New York city. France is diverse, certainly not a multilingual nation and in fact contains at least 5 different recognized languages with roots in Germanic, Celtic, Spanish and other individual languages and language groups. Overall this has been an amazing experience WWOOFing for the first time. I will be sad to go.