Animal rights activist Brigitte Bardot once remarked that the French will eat anything. Having once turned my nose up at a slice of donkey sausage a French friend offered me, I concur.
France has just repaired relations with China through a controversial transfer of French technology; but trade is not the only area where the two peoples can find common ground. As an old Cantonese saying goes, "Anything that walks, swims, crawls, or flies with its back to heaven is edible."
Chef and cookbook writer James Beard said, "Food is our common ground, a universal experience." A common ground, yes, but one through which certain social groups can be distinguished from others. "You are what you eat," a refrain of nutritionists and anthropologists alike, is simply an echo of "Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are," a famous aphorism from the pithy 18th-century French gastronomist Brillat-Savarin's Physiologie du Goût.
A certain degree of snobbery exists concerning what one ingests. However, as James Michener wrote, "If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay home." Even so, an anonymous British wag once quipped, "To eat well in England, you have to go to France three times a day."
According to author Virginia Woolf, "One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well." France's most beloved monarch, King Henri IV, must have been thinking along the same
lines when he proclaimed in his coronation speech in 1598, "I want there to be no peasant in my kingdom so poor that he is unable to have a chicken in his pot every Sunday."
Orson Welles was more to the point: "Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what's for lunch."
Text & photos ©2010 P.B. Lecron