mardi 2 septembre 2008

Madmen and English Cows

You all know we're moving to England by now, so in my attempt to transition this blog from a French theme to an English theme, I 'll share an observation that somehow reflects on the relationship between the two countries.

I've noticed since being in Paris that most cafes and restaurants have signs up, like the one below, specifying the origin of the beef they serve.

I've never seen any similar sign disclosing the national origin of the vegetables or the chicken or the fish. No, it is beef that the restaurant patrons are concerned about. You might, as I did, wonder why this is so. Is this simply some patriotic marketing effort of the French cattleman's association trying to persuade the local public to buy local? While most places do seem to have French beef, there are usually plenty of other countries listed, as above. I have seen beef from as far afield as Brazil and Lithuania proudly listed on restaurant chalkboards.

To unravel this mystery, we need to focus not on the countries that ARE listed on the restaurant chalkboards but rather those that are NOT. The most glaring and obvious answer is Britain. They do have Irish beef, as can be seen above, so we know that this is not due to any hesitation about shipping cattle across the channel or anything like that.

You may remember the "mad cow" scare that took place in the UK, oh, about 10 years ago. At the time, France, along with many other countries banned the import of British beef. Eventually, years later, when it became clear that the affected cattle had been elimitated in Britain, most countries relented. Not France. Britain took the case up with the European Union, who said that member states could not refuse to accept British beef. The French, as they so often seem to do, ignored this directive.

As far as I know, now British beef can be and is imported into France, but the French still resist their neighbors' beef by proudly advertising that they don't serve any in their restaurants.

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