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Jan 8, 2009 01:04 AM

Groceries in France - organic? Free range?

I'll be living for a year in France and am wondering what anyone can tell me about the meat and dairy products in the country.

For example, does most of the meat and milk I find at a typical grocery store here come from large, corporate farms? Or are those not as common in France? Is most of the cheese and milk already made from cows that are pasture-fed, etc., or do I have to specifically look for that on a label?

Also, I see that the villages around where I live have farmer's markets, but I'm not sure if these markets are similar to those the US, where the vendors are all small, local businesses - does anyone know?

Thanks to any help you can give me - I've tried to search the Internet for answers to these questions, but with no luck!

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  1. I have been shopping at big chain grocery stores like Carrefours, LeClerc, etc. here in SW France and it is my opinion that products are still grown and processed the traditional way, whether on a large or small scale, and that French consumers, who are incredibly opinionated about what they eat and drink, would not have it any other way. Processed convenience foods can be found but they are marketed somewhat tentatively, and producers who want to push the fact that what they make is organic (they use the word "biologique") have a hard time when nearly everything is organic. I also shop at farmers' markets, and products have been grown and prepared by the same families for generations, even though the person behind the stall may buy produce or sausages from several different farmers. Enjoy the food while you are here!

    1. Actually, as with food in France in general, the picture is very contrasted. There is a lot of industrial eggs an dairy and meat. While they're often better than tgeir American equivalent, they're still crap. You do also have actual, traditional farmed ingredients, and they're not everywhere. What you have is strong regulations on consumer information. If you buy eggs for instance, there mandatory is a number on the egg. 0 is for organic, excellent stuff, 1 is for free range, very good, 2 is more industrial and 3 is plain crap from large factories. It's always written on every egg and often times, if you check those so authentic looking stands on market, you see that their eggs in baskets that seem to come from hens they live with are actually labelled 3.

      Same for example with chicken. First price chickens that you find in supermarkets and, alas, too many butcher as well, while not nearly as tasteless and disgusting as the regular crap at Walmart, is still pretty gross and farmed in concentrationary conditions. But there are a number of labels or indications for free-range chicken, and organic ones.

      On markets throughout France, stands are usually just retailer who buy the same stuff you'll find fresher and less expensive in supermarkets. There are local producers tho, and you'll recognise them easily, if only because the choice will be more limited. There is no French production of bananas, for example.

      The single hardest thing to find is really good and fresh vegetables. For meat, dairy, fowl, you are indeed pretty safe relying on the clear labels.

      PS. I shop at Carrefour too, and they have some great ingredients at great prices. As for everything else, you need to be picky. The milkfed lamb they have for instance is truly excellent. The other day I enjoyed an excellent whole foie gras for... 4eur!

      3 Replies
      1. re: souphie

        Thanks for the help! It looks like it might be a bit tricky for me to decipher some of this (as I don't speak/read French yet) but I'm sure it can be done.

        1. re: souphie

          I didn't know about the meaning of numbers on the eggs, interesting!
          However, where one should look exactly? I guess it's the first digit in the "serial number" one can find on eggs, followed by "FR"?
          I'm asking because I think I've never seen anything other than a "1" there, but I always buy the same eggs, so...

          1. re: olivierb

            well, get the organic ones and you'll see "0".