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The Myth of the French 'Country' Market


jamiemaw
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A Commerce of the Imaginary

Romantic notions of local terroir and fermier-tended produce for sale in the traditional open-air markets of France will be dashed on these shores by the recent English translation of Michèle de la Pradelle’s Market Day in Provence.

“The Carpentras Friday market,” writes Jack Katz in his foreword, “creates a seemingly unique place without committing any indictable fraud.”

The book, which won the Prix Louis Castex de l'Académie Fran‡aise, is also sure to dim the credibility of those breathless, Enchanted April-style books that etol the 'authenticity' of French produce and the 'connection' of the French to their soil.

De la Pradelle, a French ethnologist, deliciously eviscerates the Carpentras market (near Avignon) and the faux-produce, cheeses and charcuterie on offer. Her thorough research puts paid to the fakery of the small farm and artisanal products seemingly on display: fruits and vegetables are grown industrially and vendors buy their pâtés and cheeses from large suppliers.

Several merchants quoted in the book openly admit to their playacting, which conjures images of speedy purchasing trips to the MIN (Marché d’Intérêt National - or gigantic wholesaler) followed by the careful placement of dirt under fingernails, donning of battered straw chapeau and blue farmer's apron, and labelling of 'Cornichons' and 'Confiture d'Abricot du Pays' in child-like script on Mason jars.

In fact, from what the charcutiers at the market told me, very few of them make their own products anymore, but they do strive to meet customers’ expectations, even if that means letting them believe that what has actually been bought from wholesalers comes out of their own ateliers. As Delvaux explains with a touch of humor:

'It’s important to people that we make our own products, so we have to lie. When I have them taste a pâté, they say, “Oh, it’s good, it’s really good!” If I don’t say I made it myself, they don’t think it’s as good. In the beginning I made almost everything myself, while trying to fill customer orders at the same time. That hurt me, obviously. Here I don’t make anything myself. It’d help if I had a shop, I could work in the back. But I don’t, so I started buying. In the beginning that raised a few eyebrows, but later people came and said, “All right, let me have some pâté, but your pâté, okay—homemade!” It wasn’t mine, I’d bought it at various places, so I’d say, “Here, this one is new, it’s a new recipe.” You cut off a bit, give them a taste. “You made it yourself?” “Yes, yes.” The product helps, but a bit of hype really makes it easier to put things over.’

- Market Day in Provence; Michèle de la Pradelle, University of Chicago Press.

You can find a longer quote from Market Day in Provence here.

An intriguing look inside the psychology of what, as it turns out, is just another brand.

Edited by jamiemaw (log)

from the thinly veneered desk of:

Jamie Maw

Food Editor

Vancouver magazine

www.vancouvermagazine.com

Foodblog: In the Belly of the Feast - Eating BC

"Profumo profondo della mia carne"

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Another fantasy destroyed! :biggrin: I can't decide by what you wrote whether that should make us hate the French or admire them (or both?) :blink:

Inside me there is a thin woman screaming to get out, but I can usually keep the Bitch quiet: with CHOCOLATE!!!

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Another fantasy destroyed! :biggrin:   I can't decide by what you wrote whether that should make us hate the French or admire them (or both?) :blink:

Oh, admire them, if only because nobody plays the French card quite the way the French do.

Edited by jamiemaw (log)

from the thinly veneered desk of:

Jamie Maw

Food Editor

Vancouver magazine

www.vancouvermagazine.com

Foodblog: In the Belly of the Feast - Eating BC

"Profumo profondo della mia carne"

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Another fantasy destroyed! :biggrin:   I can't decide by what you wrote whether that should make us hate the French or admire them (or both?) :blink:

Oh, admire them, if only because nobody plays the French card quite the way the French do.

Thanks Jamie. A couple of things occurred to me regarding this topic. Does this mean that the French with their "superior" taste buds aren't so different from us Yanks, meaning that they can't tell the difference between a mass produced (FILL IN THE BLANK) from the artisnal product any better than many Americans? As for the products that come from the wholesalers, are they dumbed down versions of the real thing or are they able to recreate the genuine article, just en masse? Finally, here in the states we have a multitude of laws at the Federal and state levels governing truth in advertising and a very lawsuit-happy population (I have no idea what laws/penalties are out there that may address what purveyors at our farmers markets must say or advertise about their wares). What about the laws of France? I would assume that they probably have a much more casual approach than we do here.

Inside me there is a thin woman screaming to get out, but I can usually keep the Bitch quiet: with CHOCOLATE!!!

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Fake "country" French product stalls are to be found at nearly every market, particularly in touristy regions. They sometimes gather to form whole "terroir" markets even in the heart of Paris. They are extremely easy to spot: heaps of saucissons with various flavors, so-called artisanal bakery, fleur de sel sold for the price of cocaine in blue gingham cloth bags... Vendors in black wide-rimmed hats and blue Auvergnat blouses whatever region they mean to represent, or sometimes Breton hats. Strange as it may seem, they don't only cater for foreign tourists but to the locals as well. Well, some locals. However, it is quite easy not to fall into the trap. The whole thing reeks of inauthenticity and has "phony" written all over it.

Hating the French? Or admiring them? What for? Is falsified folklore a uniquely French phenomenon? Aren't marketing techniques, including the corniest ones, perfectly international? There's nothing particularly French about those silly market stalls. Or aren't they rather a consequence of the fact that a bit too much is expected from the French by foreign visitors in terms of "authenticity" and "country products", playing on the chord of hyper-romanticism, which is a thing that wasn't started by the French themselves — and Provence was one of the most severely afflicted regions?

If you really like French country products, well, get to know them. When you do, it is very unlikely that you'll get gypped at any of those stalls. Those who cannot tell the difference between industrially-grown and artisanally-grown produce are to be pitied indeed. Real producers with real produce should be spotted from the very first sight. They often have modest stalls, few produce, and diversified: a few chickens, two or three bunches of radish, a few bunches of cress or hairy leeks, three crates of ugly potatoes and sandy carrots. Apple with spots on them. Six half-pounds of butter, hand-shaped into balls. Another way to spot them: there's a waiting line and most of what's available is gone before 10:30 AM. The owner is not dressed "as a peasant", though he or she may have a tan from staying outside in the fields. And so on. I believe anyone who buys produce from a "fake" stall and believes it to be the real thing deserves every bit of it.

One word about charcutiers "not making their terrines": there's no rule. Some still do (and will tell you so, truthfully, if you ask). Some don't, and sometimes the so-called "industrial" pâtés and terrines are just as good as home-made. It all depends on the company, which may be artisanal and very good quality. This has been going on for decades and is not really a criteria to judge a charcutier, on a market or not. At any rate, not to be put in the same bunch as the fake Auvergnats selling phony "pain artisanal au feu de bois".

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If you really like French country products, well, get to know them. When you do, it is very unlikely that you'll get gypped at any of those stalls. Those who cannot tell the difference between industrially-grown and artisanally-grown produce are to be pitied indeed. Real producers with real produce should be spotted from the very first sight. They often have modest stalls, few produce, and diversified: a few chickens, two or three bunches of radish, a few bunches of cress or hairy leeks, three crates of ugly potatoes and sandy carrots. Apple with spots on them. Six half-pounds of butter, hand-shaped into balls. Another way to spot them: there's a waiting line and most of what's available is gone before 10:30 AM. The owner is not dressed "as a peasant", though he or she may have a tan from staying outside in the fields. And so on. I believe anyone who buys produce from a "fake" stall and believes it to be the real thing deserves every bit of it.

I appreciate your insights Ptipois since I have never been to France and would probably be spotted a mile away as a clueless American tourista. However, I must refer back to the original article posted by Jamie which deals at length with the fact that there are purveyors who purhase their goods from wholesalers who are quite adept at painting themselves as "real producers with real produce" when indeed they are creating the same types of displays of "their" produce you mention above--modest stalls and few produce--and going to quite elaborate lengths to achieve this. So would you say that even then one should be able to tell the difference between the real thing and the fakes?

At any rate, if I ever get to go to France, I'll need all of the help and advice you can give. :smile:

Inside me there is a thin woman screaming to get out, but I can usually keep the Bitch quiet: with CHOCOLATE!!!

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Another fantasy destroyed! :biggrin:   I can't decide by what you wrote whether that should make us hate the French or admire them (or both?) :blink:

Oh, admire them, if only because nobody plays the French card quite the way the French do.

Thanks Jamie. A couple of things occurred to me regarding this topic. Does this mean that the French with their "superior" taste buds aren't so different from us Yanks, meaning that they can't tell the difference between a mass produced (FILL IN THE BLANK) from the artisnal product any better than many Americans? As for the products that come from the wholesalers, are they dumbed down versions of the real thing or are they able to recreate the genuine article, just en masse? Finally, here in the states we have a multitude of laws at the Federal and state levels governing truth in advertising and a very lawsuit-happy population (I have no idea what laws/penalties are out there that may address what purveyors at our farmers markets must say or advertise about their wares). What about the laws of France? I would assume that they probably have a much more casual approach than we do here.

I haven't finished reading Market Day in Provence yet, but it largely rings true with my own experience in France and other countries: what appears artisanal and home-grown at a so-called farmers' market is often anything but. Let's call it re-gifting.

On the French farm (in the Auverne) where I worked, which mainly grew grain and hay crops, Madame would make some of her own fruit preserves from nearby stone fruit trees, but would also buy in fruits and vegetables from the Co-Op. These were artfully rearranged into rustic wooden crates that had first been lined with straw. Then Extra-Jean, le fermier, would back his battered Deux Chevaux (not as pretty as this one) around to the cellar doors to bundle up the day's 'produce' and packaged goods, to be conveyed to the market. Needless to say, the shiny new Peugeot stayed in the garage.

But the francs earned on market days served an economic purpose: Cropping on a large scale only delivers one pay day per year, and the hard currency from the market (most of which escaped the tax collector) provided consistent family income throughout the year. That in turn was regifted by keeping their beautiful daughters in chic dresses and stylish high heels.

As the extended quote that I linked points out, this market artifice is almost tacitly agreed to by the parties (except unsupecting tourists and naive food writers); it requires only the suspension of logic on behalf of the purchaser and the white lies of the stallholder.

As I get deeper into the book, it will be interesting to see if the author compounds the fracture by discussing the massive subsidization of French farmers.

I realize that the vast majority of the world's lawyers live in America; in France, as long as the end product behaves well and tastes good, there's more of a 'nudge, nudge; wink, wink' mentality and rare are the lawsuits for merely taking a leek.

Edited by jamiemaw (log)

from the thinly veneered desk of:

Jamie Maw

Food Editor

Vancouver magazine

www.vancouvermagazine.com

Foodblog: In the Belly of the Feast - Eating BC

"Profumo profondo della mia carne"

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I realize that the vast majority of the world's lawyers live in America; in France, as long as the end product behaves well and tastes good, there's more of a 'nudge, nudge; wink, wink" mentality and rare are the lawsuits for taking a leek!

Mr. Maw is indubitably right, as is his usual way of being.

And if I didn't have to rush out right now for dinner (where I am dining upon some Authentic Cantonese Cuisine (shriek) right here in this small city in the state of Virginia, I would add more lines.

Nudge nudge wink wink.

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If you really like French country products, well, get to know them. When you do, it is very unlikely that you'll get gypped at any of those stalls. Those who cannot tell the difference between industrially-grown and artisanally-grown produce are to be pitied indeed. Real producers with real produce should be spotted from the very first sight. They often have modest stalls, few produce, and diversified: a few chickens, two or three bunches of radish, a few bunches of cress or hairy leeks, three crates of ugly potatoes and sandy carrots. Apple with spots on them. Six half-pounds of butter, hand-shaped into balls. Another way to spot them: there's a waiting line and most of what's available is gone before 10:30 AM. The owner is not dressed "as a peasant", though he or she may have a tan from staying outside in the fields. And so on. I believe anyone who buys produce from a "fake" stall and believes it to be the real thing deserves every bit of it.

As Carrot Top rightly points out, de la Pradelle’s research delves deeply into the wizzened apples, dead rabbits, 'lots of oil cloth' displays. That section culminates in this paragraph . . .

This type of display may lead the customer to believe, or at least suggests to him, that he is buying lettuce or leeks directly from the person who patiently transplanted and hoed them. In reality, Roux’s fruits and vegetables come from the marché-gare (the section called le petit marché, used above all by producers who have only small quantities to sell), though he does have his “own” little producer, a neighbor of his in Pernes.

She clearly makes the case that these displays and stall holders are as equally inauthentic as the 'artful display/battered chapeau' types.

from the thinly veneered desk of:

Jamie Maw

Food Editor

Vancouver magazine

www.vancouvermagazine.com

Foodblog: In the Belly of the Feast - Eating BC

"Profumo profondo della mia carne"

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From my very brief exposure to the a French market in Mens (Dauphine), there are a few points that are relevant. The 'tradional' market under the village covers had some nice looking local produce, but also quite a bit of fakery as noted. There was also another market on a seperate day. This was the 'organic' market, which was held in the open village square. There was apparently some comflict between the two groups of vendors, and quite a bit of pressure from the Mayor for the organic vendors to join the regular market. The organic vendors resisted this on the basis that they wished to better define their products. Many of the later group are quite young and idealistic.

I'm quite sure that a lot of the tricks described in previous posts do happen. What I don't understand is why this is such a surprise? Vendors have been playing games with customers from the very begining of trade.

What is also true is that there are also honest traders that work hard and make many sacrifices, either due vocation or lifestyle choices. I know this to be true as I actually know such people.

Most vendors are more then likely somewhere in the middle of these two extremes and I do not doubt that there are regional differences also.

But again, I'm not sure why this is such a surprise, that is the nature of markets after all, interacting with people and developing relationships with them.

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So long as people insist on their fantasies -- the farmer grew my vegetables, the chef cooked my food -- there will be businesspeople willing to indulge those fantasies. As soon as people wake up, realize and accept that we live in a world where sometimes factories, wholesalers and importers provide the best example, the only example or a less expensive but still good example of a product on any given day, the deception will end.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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[sNIP]

I'm quite sure that a lot of the tricks described in previous posts do happen. What I don't understand is why this is such a surprise? Vendors have been playing games with customers from the very begining of trade.

What is also true is that there are also honest traders that work hard and make many sacrifices, either due vocation or lifestyle choices. I know this to be true as I actually know such people.

Most vendors are more then likely somewhere in the middle of these two extremes and I do not doubt that there are regional differences also.

But again, I'm not sure why this is such a surprise, that is the nature of markets after all, interacting with people and developing relationships with them.

I don't think it a surprise at all, especially here at home, where picturesque hillocks of dewy melons don't fool many. That's just one reason it's a pleasure to buy at the farmgate or orchard stand in the Okanagan.

But again, I'm not sure why this is such a surprise, that is the nature of markets after all, interacting with people and developing relationships with them.

Developing relationships? I think it's the author's central premise that these relationships are founded on dishonety.

But the real point is that this book completely overturns the romantic notion of the seductive French market, the foods on offer, and its seemingly rustic farmer-vendors. According to the suthor, some of them are as illusory as Ralph Lauren.

I recently read a book on the romance of markets in southern France. The Canadian author (who was, unoriginally, setting out to buy a house- yawn) naively proclaimed that French consumer has a naturally deeper connection to the soil because of their open-air market mentality and insistence on only very high quality product: fresh, local, seasonal.

An awfully lot of bad food writing is based on this flawed premise and its counterpunch: that North Americans suffer a disconnect from the land because they largely shop in supermarkets. It turns out that the French do as well, but in ones that offer the illusion of

[Ptipois]   Modest stalls, few produce, and diversified: a few chickens, two or three bunches of radish, a few bunches of cress or hairy leeks, three crates of ugly potatoes and sandy carrots. Apple with spots on them. Six half-pounds of butter, hand-shaped into balls.

So much of the concept of the French idyll (a bike or canal boat ride through the countryside, stopping at a market to gather supplies for a picnic) is based on this ripe artifice that it appears, up close, like that amusing pastime of sacred cow tipping.

Or merely merde de cheval.

Edited by jamiemaw (log)

from the thinly veneered desk of:

Jamie Maw

Food Editor

Vancouver magazine

www.vancouvermagazine.com

Foodblog: In the Belly of the Feast - Eating BC

"Profumo profondo della mia carne"

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But again, I'm not sure why this is such a surprise, that is the nature of markets after all, interacting with people and developing relationships with them.

Developing relationships? I think it's the author's central premise that these relationships are founded on dishonety.

But the real point is the romantic notion of the seductive French stall and its seemingly rustic farmer-vendors. According to the suthor, most of them are as illusory as Ralph Lauren.

I recently read a book on the romance of markets in southern France. The Canadian author (who was unoriginally setting out to buy a house) naively proclaimed that French consumer has a naturally deeper connection to the soil because of their open-air market mentality and insistence on only very high quality product: fresh, local, seasonal.

An awfully lot of bad food writing is based on this flawed premise and its counterpunch: that North Americans suffer a disconnect from the land because they largely shop in supermarkets.

I see what you mean, but I guess my surprise was this - as much as I like markets and target them at every opertunity, I would never go as far as to say that I trusted a vendor absolutely. The nature of the game and all that.

Maybe the Canadian author you mention above isn't that naive. After all, it is these sentimental memes that people want to hear and that is what sells books and makes money for the author. Prehaps they are playing the same game as the market vendors. The original version of the book may have been entitled "France: God it sucks", but that wouldn't fly I imagine and would result in a rapid re-draft.

Regarding supermarkets (off topic, but amusing): He in Scotland I noticed that although most potatoes are sold in plastic bags, some are sold loose in bins, covered in a layer of peaty earth. It is quite interesting to watch the staff put perfectly clean, brushed potatoes into a bin then pour a bag of sterilized earth over them.

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But again, I'm not sure why this is such a surprise, that is the nature of markets after all, interacting with people and developing relationships with them.

Developing relationships? I think it's the author's central premise that these relationships are founded on dishonety.

But the real point is the romantic notion of the seductive French stall and its seemingly rustic farmer-vendors. According to the suthor, most of them are as illusory as Ralph Lauren.

I recently read a book on the romance of markets in southern France. The Canadian author (who was unoriginally setting out to buy a house) naively proclaimed that French consumer has a naturally deeper connection to the soil because of their open-air market mentality and insistence on only very high quality product: fresh, local, seasonal.

An awfully lot of bad food writing is based on this flawed premise and its counterpunch: that North Americans suffer a disconnect from the land because they largely shop in supermarkets.

I see what you mean, but I guess my surprise was this - as much as I like markets and target them at every opertunity, I would never go as far as to say that I trusted a vendor absolutely. The nature of the game and all that.

Maybe the Canadian author you mention above isn't that naive. After all, it is these sentimental memes that people want to hear and that is what sells books and makes money for the author. Prehaps they are playing the same game as the market vendors. The original version of the book may have been entitled "France: God it sucks", but that wouldn't fly I imagine and would result in a rapid re-draft.

Regarding supermarkets (off topic, but amusing): Here in Scotland I noticed that although most potatoes are sold in plastic bags, some are sold loose in bins, covered in a layer of peaty earth. It is quite interesting to watch the staff put perfectly clean, brushed potatoes into a bin then pour a bag of sterilized earth over them.

I'll always check out markets too, Adam, faux-charm or not. And as regards the Canadian author, her snobby premise met with much derision here: "If it's so darn good there, please feel free to stay."

With regard to your sneaky Scottish grocer friends, that does plumb a new low even if the peat likely imparts a smoky flavour not unlike a superior whisky. :hmmm: Well, at least Scottish grocers have stopped stuffing potatoes in their Speedos whilst holidaying in France.

Which is clearly where they got the idea.

Jamie

PS - I'm filing the Faux-French Market Factoids in that trove of Who Would've Thought? arcana that numbers other epiphany-inducing provocations such as discovering that the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas has more hotels rooms than Venice. It's just that important.

Edited by jamiemaw (log)

from the thinly veneered desk of:

Jamie Maw

Food Editor

Vancouver magazine

www.vancouvermagazine.com

Foodblog: In the Belly of the Feast - Eating BC

"Profumo profondo della mia carne"

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If you really like French country products, well, get to know them. When you do, it is very unlikely that you'll get gypped at any of those stalls. Those who cannot tell the difference between industrially-grown and artisanally-grown produce are to be pitied indeed. Real producers with real produce should be spotted from the very first sight. They often have modest stalls, few produce, and diversified: a few chickens, two or three bunches of radish, a few bunches of cress or hairy leeks, three crates of ugly potatoes and sandy carrots. Apple with spots on them. Six half-pounds of butter, hand-shaped into balls. Another way to spot them: there's a waiting line and most of what's available is gone before 10:30 AM. The owner is not dressed "as a peasant", though he or she may have a tan from staying outside in the fields. And so on. I believe anyone who buys produce from a "fake" stall and believes it to be the real thing deserves every bit of it.

As Carrot Top rightly points out, de la Pradelle’s research delves deeply into the wizzened apples, dead rabbits, 'lots of oil cloth' displays. That section culminates in this paragraph . . .

This type of display may lead the customer to believe, or at least suggests to him, that he is buying lettuce or leeks directly from the person who patiently transplanted and hoed them. In reality, Roux’s fruits and vegetables come from the marché-gare (the section called le petit marché, used above all by producers who have only small quantities to sell), though he does have his “own” little producer, a neighbor of his in Pernes.

She clearly makes the case that these displays and stall holders are as equally inauthentic as the 'artful display/battered chapeau' types.

Meh.

Here, even, in the hallowed halls of eGullet! Is a good example of how easily one can be hoodwinked.

Mr. Maw thought it was me, Carrot Top, speaking - when really it was Ptipois speaking!

Now it is true that we are both fine specimens, me a green top of a carrot, she a fresh spring pea - but there the sameness ends! She is French and undoubtedly chic - I am merely the American girl next door.

Tonight we will blame this on the fact that it is the fin de la semaine, and probably Mr. Maw was indulging in some excellent old Burgundy as he read, then afterwards as his fingers hit the keyboard so masterfully. Burgundy. That *is* French, isn't it? :smile:

But it just goes to prove how easily one can be fooled as to point of origin by even the finest produce (whether intentionally or not! :shock::biggrin: ) .

Edited by Carrot Top (log)
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However, I must refer back to the original article posted by Jamie which deals at length with the fact that there are purveyors who purhase their goods from wholesalers who are quite adept at painting themselves as "real producers with real produce" when indeed they are creating the same types of displays of "their" produce you mention above--modest stalls and few produce--and going to quite elaborate lengths to achieve this.  So would you say that even then one should be able to tell the difference between the real thing and the fakes?

Absolutely.

Being able to tell the difference between artisanal and "industrial" produce is the least a food lover should be able to do, wherever in the world they roam. France or not.

Small "producer" market stalls exactly the way I described them, with goods purchased from wholesalers? Sorry, I don't buy that. With just a little practice it is quite easy to know what you're buying. It also takes a bit of knowledge of the region and its agricultural peculiarities, which I agree visitors can't always have. But believe me, if you know how to buy good produce, you'll know how to do that wherever you are. As for the modest stall vendors I'm referring to going to quite elaborate lengths to achieve the appearance of artisanal produce, I don't buy that either, for buying from wholesalers would be more troublesome for them than just growing the stuff. In no way the little granny and her son with their three trussed chickens, one basket of mushrooms and six jars of honey are likely to have bought them from a wholesaler, for that would be a lot of trouble for not much of a gain.

I'm tempted to believe that the illusion is more in the eye of the beholder, i.e. mistaking an average "maraîcher" who sells fine-looking produce, some of it of their own production, some of it bought - which is quite common in France - for someone pretending to be a 100% artisanal producer. My favorite maraîcher at the Monge market in Paris does grow some of his vegetables and herbs, and buys the rest. He doesn't claim to grow everything but he will tell you what he grows and what he doesn't. Everyone does the same. However, I believe that some tourists or visitors, seeing his stall, could easily believe at first sight that everything he sells is home production and would be disappointed if they asked him the truth.

I go to markets a lot, in Paris and in other parts of France, and apart from the typical cases I've described before, I see very little likeliness of fraud in terms of "country" produce. Unless the "fraud" concerns produce that doesn't even look "country"-like in the first place. There are laws and rules, too. Producers have to be labeled as such at markets. I know some stall vendors who sell 100% home-grown produce. I know some who sell only partly home-grown produce. And others who sell only bought produce. The quality may be excellent in every one of these cases, but the aspect of the produce, the choice offered, and even the way of selling them will be different - and unmistakable.

At any rate, if I ever get to go to France, I'll need all of the help and advice you can give. :smile:

Of course, just PM me before you come to France, and I'll take you to a market when I have a chance. I'll show you how to spot a true maraîcher, a true small producer, and a true tourist trap (if we find one).

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She clearly makes the case that these displays and stall holders are as equally inauthentic as the 'artful display/battered chapeau' types.

I find it a bit dubious to build theories on a few examples and thus stamp the "inauthenticity" label on French farmers's market stalls as a rule.

Anyway, this is by no means my experience at French provincial or even city markets. These practices are unknown in the Norman, Auvergnat, Breton, Languedoc, etc., markets I'm familiar with.

Also, I fail to grasp how the picturesque examples of your Auvergnat farmers may be a proof of artifice. The preserves were not made entirely from fruit grown on the farm? So what? And it seems perfectly normal to take the stuff to market in a deux-chevaux instead of the more fragile Peugeot. Where's the inauthenticity in all that? That was certainly good farm produce. I mean, what more would you need for things to be more french-authentic? Preserves being cooked on a wood fire and the jars carried to town by oxcart?

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There was apparently some comflict between the two groups of vendors, and quite a bit of pressure from the Mayor for the organic vendors to join the regular market. The organic vendors resisted this on the basis that they wished to better define their products. Many of the later group are quite young and idealistic.

This only means that the organic vendors were doing what organic vendors usually do, i.e. define their products as organic. Which doesn't mean that the non-organic stalls were selling lower-quality products. Just that they were not organic. This is defined by a chart of production, and a very strict one — and some vegetable and fruit growers in the other part of the market may very well sell much better produce, and healthier from an organic point of view, but they don't have the label, either because they did not try to get it, or because the criteria were too hard to meet.

Edited by Ptipois (log)
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Anyway, to the point:

I was attracted to this thread by the title "the myth of the French 'country' market" and I find out in amazement that the discovery of a few dishonest practices (though how dishonest they really are deserves to be looked at more closely; for instance where is the fraud in selling artisanal produce that you didn't grow yourself but bought from the next field when what you're supposed to sell is artisanal produce?) seems to be enough to put the blame on the whole phenomenon of French country markets and, thus, on the whole population of small farm producers and maraîchers, who do a terrific job all over the country, I can testify for this.

Once again, a few flaws seem to be considered enough of a trigger for global bashing, and the serious term "myth" is immediately applied to French farmer's markets without any closer look on the question. I mean, people, isn't there obviously a problem there?

Edited by Ptipois (log)
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Once again, a few flaws seem to be considered enough of a trigger for global bashing, and the serious term "myth" is immediately applied to French farmer's markets without any closer look on the question. I mean, people, isn't there obviously a problem there?

To be quite serious for just a moment, yes Ptipois there is a problem.

Without going into defense and counterdefense, it must be said that merde de cheval is not exclusively a French product as some might wish to have others assume.

And merde de cheval does happen to be something that is created by a demand by the consumer who sometimes would rather have romance than reality - ease without comprehension, or time taken to truly be informed.

In this world, it is sometimes mind-boggling often to be fully informed as to anything that exists.

But again, "myths" have been around since the beginning of time and no geographic region that I am aware of is exempt from them nor more prone to them. They are merely shaded in different ways to take different appearances in display.

France is often chosen as example of food-related things. Let us assume it is so because it *does* have so very much to offer. . .not because it is full of myth.

Edited by Carrot Top (log)
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If you really like French country products, well, get to know them. When you do, it is very unlikely that you'll get gypped at any of those stalls. Those who cannot tell the difference between industrially-grown and artisanally-grown produce are to be pitied indeed. Real producers with real produce should be spotted from the very first sight. They often have modest stalls, few produce, and diversified: a few chickens, two or three bunches of radish, a few bunches of cress or hairy leeks, three crates of ugly potatoes and sandy carrots. Apple with spots on them. Six half-pounds of butter, hand-shaped into balls. Another way to spot them: there's a waiting line and most of what's available is gone before 10:30 AM. The owner is not dressed "as a peasant", though he or she may have a tan from staying outside in the fields. And so on. I believe anyone who buys produce from a "fake" stall and believes it to be the real thing deserves every bit of it.

As Carrot Top rightly points out, de la Pradelle’s research delves deeply into the wizzened apples, dead rabbits, 'lots of oil cloth' displays. That section culminates in this paragraph . . .

This type of display may lead the customer to believe, or at least suggests to him, that he is buying lettuce or leeks directly from the person who patiently transplanted and hoed them. In reality, Roux’s fruits and vegetables come from the marché-gare (the section called le petit marché, used above all by producers who have only small quantities to sell), though he does have his “own” little producer, a neighbor of his in Pernes.

She clearly makes the case that these displays and stall holders are as equally inauthentic as the 'artful display/battered chapeau' types.

Meh.

Here, even, in the hallowed halls of eGullet! Is a good example of how easily one can be hoodwinked.

Mr. Maw thought it was me, Carrot Top, speaking - when really it was Ptipois speaking!

Now it is true that we are both fine specimens, me a green top of a carrot, she a fresh spring pea - but there the sameness ends! She is French and undoubtedly chic - I am merely the American girl next door.

Tonight we will blame this on the fact that it is the fin de la semaine, and probably Mr. Maw was indulging in some excellent old Burgundy as he read, then afterwards as his fingers hit the keyboard so masterfully. Burgundy. That *is* French, isn't it? :smile:

But it just goes to prove how easily one can be fooled as to point of origin by even the finest produce (whether intentionally or not! :shock::biggrin: ) .

Zut alors! Actually, dearest, and for clarity, while quoting Ptipois, I was referencing a similar point that you made upthread.

I didn't want you to think that I had been overly distracted by Olympic women's hockey.

from the thinly veneered desk of:

Jamie Maw

Food Editor

Vancouver magazine

www.vancouvermagazine.com

Foodblog: In the Belly of the Feast - Eating BC

"Profumo profondo della mia carne"

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Anyway, to the point:

I was attracted to this thread by the title "the myth of the French 'country' market" and I find out in amazement that the discovery of a few dishonest practices (though how dishonest they really are deserves to be looked at more closely; for instance where is the fraud in selling artisanal produce that you didn't grow yourself but bought from the next field when what you're supposed to sell is artisanal produce?) seems to be enough to put the blame on the whole phenomenon of French country markets and, thus, on the whole population of small farm producers and maraîchers, who do a terrific job all over the country, I can testify for this.

Once again, a few flaws seem to be considered enough of a trigger for global bashing, and the serious term "myth" is immediately applied to French farmer's markets without any closer look on the question. I mean, people, isn't there obviously a problem there?

Yes, after reading a good whack of the book I'd have to agree with you: There is a problem there. But for the most part the appearance is that it's more amusing play-acting and light chicanery (an 'unindictable fraud') than something deeply malicious.

Free advice: Read the book. Market Day in Provence has been available in France for some time. The author finds much more than 'a few flaws' though: The evidence suggests that all is not as it appears. But I'd cheerfully recommend that you read it and make your own mind up.

The author is an acclaimed French ethnologist, it won a serious French award and is certainly deeply researched (if clumsily translated into English). And, as I said earlier, it delightfully illuminates the pastime of sacred cow-tipping. Needless to say, it also provoked ample Gallic hand-wringing.

Also, I fail to grasp how the picturesque examples of your Auvergnat farmers may be a proof of artifice. The preserves were not made entirely from fruit grown on the farm? So what? And it seems perfectly normal to take the stuff to market in a deux-chevaux instead of the more fragile Peugeot. Where's the inauthenticity in all that? That was certainly good farm produce. I mean, what more would you need for things to be more french-authentic? Preserves being cooked on a wood fire and the jars carried to town by oxcart?

It was the artifice of Extra-Jean's ploy to be très authentique that was so amusing, not that his bought-in products and Madame's home-made preserves were necessarily inferior. But believe me, as I said earlier the Deux Chaveaux and blue smock gambit was entirely intentional: Irony, after all, requires two audiences. At the market, those two audiences - separated by that unspoken irony and a plank of wrinkly produce - were composed of the shepherd and the fleeced.

In fact, it was a standing joke in the household, a weekly uniform of Mock-Paysan Sunday Best. If his daughters accompanied him, the Dior pumps and low chignons would stay back in favour of espadrilles and toussled bed hair - their take on Marianne Goes To Market. That being said, there wasn't really any malice to it, just a little Gallic shrug and a knowing wink. The neighbours were silent collaborators and many performed the same weekly service.

Of course it's not just the French open-air market that was born from this artifice. It's a time-honoured manipulation seen all around the world, from the rafia-tied litres of second-rate olive oil in Chiantishire, to the cruise ship tourist drops of Ketchikan and Juneau. It's just that the French are so much better at it, having global rights to the use of blue gingham and all, and enchanting descriptors such as 'mamam', 'confiture' and 'naturellement mon petit jardin organique est fertilisé avec le produit de mes vaches.'

But of course.

Edited by jamiemaw (log)

from the thinly veneered desk of:

Jamie Maw

Food Editor

Vancouver magazine

www.vancouvermagazine.com

Foodblog: In the Belly of the Feast - Eating BC

"Profumo profondo della mia carne"

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