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How do the French get their food?

We are back from a three week trip to France, one week in Provence and two weeks in Paris.

We are curious about how the French food delivery system works. For instance, there are small market stalls in many neighborhoods in Paris that had absolutely delicious fresh fruit: cherries, raspberries, strawberries. Ripe, tasty, and very inexpensive compared to costs in our neck of the woods (Ohio). And we can't even find such fruit, not in our farmer's markets nor the high end groceries and there is nothing "in the middle".

As we think about it, we suspect it has something to do with the food delivery system. Of course, France is a smaller country than the US, but why can't I get strawberries from neighboring southern states, or cherries from Michigan (they come from Washington state), or local raspberries?

The folks at the small stalls weren't farmers. These are not "farmer's markets". And my memory is that even the local Monoprix had great fruit -- and of course great cheese and miles of yogurt.

So, any thoughts on how the system works?

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  1. Antonia - I think you need to consider both the supply and demand side. On the demand side the typical French consumer will appreciate seasonal food and buy according to the seasons. Compare that to the UK where the standard is to have the same fresh produce available all year with far less seasonality.

    French consumers patronize markets and local shops as well as supermarkets, again compare thus to the UK where the supermarkets are dominant an most people only shop in them (which I think mirrors the US). In the UK and the US many people do the weekly big shop, driving to a big supermarket outside the centre of town, in fact few people now live in town. In France many people live in the centres of towns and cities, they shop more frequently, and walk to the local shops, with supermarket trips in between.

    Because of the differences in the deman side the supply side is structured differently to supply it. Far more individual suppliers means there is more competition, competition means variety, local specialities, freshness etc are differentiators. In the UK/US the food supply is dominated by major brands where competition is about efficiency of supply and standardization so differentiation is less i.e. you tend to buy the brand of supermarket not really the individual produce, so you won't but meat from one place and vegtables from another.

    Sitting behind this will be the distribution network that is designed to drive consistency. For example you may find the milk from your local dairy farm is shipped to a central distribution centre at the other end of the country, then distributed back to your local store. In France there is a more local supply chain that is designed to meet consumer demand. The big players like Carrefour do have scale and national/international distribution but it sits alongside the local shops and specialist so in France you see a blended model with scale for some things, but local for other.

    That said there is a constant commercial pressure to standardize. Take cheese, unpateurised is a more difficult product to manage across the supply chain with more wastage. Better to standardize and pasteurize all cheese so big dairies are constantly trying to eliminate unpasteurized cheese. If they can influence the change in regulations to make unpasteurized more expensive or more difficult to produce they can streamline the market and eliminate the less stable product - if consumers can't exercise choice then they can only but pasteurized which masked life so much easier for a big supplier.

    France does maintain a good artisan standards in much of the food chain but there is no room for complacency as multinational food companies drive more efficiency in the market.

    3 Replies
    1. re: PhilD

      Supply and demand is almost like chicken/egg, which came first?

      It is very clear that the French have much higher expectations of what their food should be like. As others point out, Americans (so far) do not. Hence the demand side.

      But, I sense this is changing. Certainly the larger farmer's markets, like the Union Square Market, are part of this, as are the increasing number of artisanal (spelling?) cheese makers, bourbon makers, maple syrup makers, etc.

      But, access to these special products -- and the cherries from Michigan instead of Oregon -- still seems to be hard to come by. Unlike French consumers, we can't exercise choice, even as we are demanding more and more choice.

      Meeting that demand requires some kind of infrastructure.

      Again, I ask, how do the French ACTUALLY do it? Is having a central market, like Rungis make it possible to supply those delicious raspberries on the streets of Paris? Where actually do those small street sellers get their fruit, vegetables, etc?

      Are there regional markets/middle folk in the countryside and other cities where the street seller can buy excellent fruit/vegetables and then sell them to the French consumer from the smaller shop?

      Without that infrastructure in the middle we here in the US will be limited to the hard, but shiny tomatoes at the supper market, or the cherries from Oregon when they are also grown 300 miles away in Michigan.

      How do I get access to those cherries?

      1. re: antonia2

        "Again, I ask, how do the French ACTUALLY do it?"

        I don't think there is any magic to it. It starts with obtaining varieties of fruit whose chief characteristic is deliciousness. Has to be grown that way in the first place. They get the fruit from whatever source they can. Oranges from Spain, many tropical fruits from Africa, other fruit from France and around the EU. Geographically, it's all pretty close quite frankly.

        In the US this week we bought some peaches from the supermarket and from a market stand about an hour outside the city on the way to the beach. The supermarket peaches were so hard you could hammer nails with them. After about five days, they were finallly soft enought to eat but they had dried up inside. Right in the middle of peach season!

        The peaches at the fruit stand were totally ready to eat right then, and exploded in juiciness. They are not the same peach in the first place. It's not magic. A complex infrastructure had to be created to get that supermarket peach into our grubby little hands. I guess because at some point in the past, the US consumer rejected the juicy and seasonally available but imperfect looking peach in preference for the beautiful papier maché version, available year round, grown on purpose to look great first and for most. We were (and still are) willing to pay top dollar - it is not at all about saving money- for this privilege.

        Although it is not fruit, here is what happens with Maryland crabs (which I think is a similar story): supply is inconsistent, so crab houses here have to go further afield. Those suppliers want to sell to them year round, so they insist on purchasing levels 12 months of the year. Voila, they are serving Texas crabs even when Maryland crabs are available. So you are sitting in a restaurant in Maryland, built on a dock overlooking the Chesapeake Bay where crabs are swimming - maybe even right in front of you - and you are eating crabs from Texas and crabcakes made from Vietnamese crab. And you are paying 'market' prices.

        1. re: Steve

          Or as an octogenarian French friend rails when such subject comes up, blame it on the devil incarnate, Monsanto.

    2. I think part of the difference is that too many Americans are content with mediocrity. So they'll accept whatever is offered and even be glad for it, without questioning where it came from, or even how it tastes.

      I shop mostly at the Union Square Greenmarket especially in summer, crossing 14th Street to supplement my purchases at Whole Foods. The strawberries at Whole Foods are all Driscoll from CA! What's up with that is it's okay to most consumers, even those who consider themselves savvy! I only buy strawberries at the market, and only from those farmers who bring the ones I can smell a block away!!! (Just an example)

      4 Replies
      1. re: ChefJune

        and how much is it "content with mediocrity" versus "doesn't know any better"?!

        If you don't know what a really fresh peach is supposed to taste like, you don't realize that the rock-hard, slightly bitter thing you're holding in your hand is bad.

        1. re: sunshine842

          Generations of Americans now expect peaches to be in the in store year round. They have little idea of seasons or that the peaches should taste different in the summer.

        2. re: ChefJune

          June, here in Montréal, I was actually rather peeved at a fellow ahead of me in line in a chain supermarket (no, I wasn't buying fruit) buying a lot of organic stuff: good local milk, but also "organic" strawberries from California! The local ones are in season here now, and some are organic. This fellow, who looked ultra-fit, could have cycled to the Jean-Talon Market in ten minutes from where we were... I don't buy Driscoll, not even the organics, in the wintertime. I'm sure there are smaller organic producers in California, if I should travel there, with fruit one can smell!

          I got used to extreme seasonality when living in Italy. They are even more adamant about it than the French. For years I didn't buy any of those golfball tomatoes; I do occasionally buy the much improved hothouse ones nowadays, in the winter, supplemented with some jarred salsa, etc.

          We do seem to get more cherries from Washington State or British Columbia than from neighbouring Ontario.

        3. The fruit in a US Supermarket is sold rock hard. It looks beautiful. Gorgeous, ruby red tomatoes, perfectly shaped. Prettily shaded peaches. Pears, plums, and strawberries that survive unblemished the rigors of transportation. The US consumer will reach for that tomato in the supermarket that looks beautiful and will pay a premium for that. There is no expectation from the consumer they will be able to eat it anytime soon after purchase. And they expect to have the fruit available throughout the year, no matter the season. These fruit will never ripen properly.

          In all those little neighborhood or village markets in France, the fruit is ready to eat, from my experience, and the French expect it to be ripe.

          In order to satisfy these different expectations, the fruit has to be a different variety from the beginning.

          Just like all those 'food service' tomatoes at a fast food place are a different variety. Nobody cares what they look like unsliced. The consumer dos not see them whole and does not pay extra for them, so they have to be as cheap as possible, are usually pink, and cannot be juicy or will be too messy to slice and serve. They will lose product on the floor.

          1. Why you can't get cherries from Michigan? because the the state produce a small amount where as Washington has groves and groves of cherry orchard geared toward large production. And there is nothing wrong with those cherries; they are some of the sweetest Bing cherries around. Same with strawberries, peaches, avocado and many other produce. Small farmers in American produce a very tiny amount of the food we consume.
            Add to the demand issue, there is less of a seasonality to the American consumer. We expect tomatoes all year round, fruit from the southern hemisphere during the winter, Asparagus from Mexico and Peru, raspberries from Holland. This leads to developing varieties of fruit and vegetable that can stand up to long shipping and storage logistics rather than for taste.
            And there is the worst American shopping habit of handling and squeezing every fruit before buying. This leads stores to stock rock hard fruit. A ripe fruit won't survive two minutes at Whole Foods. Ever try touching a peach at a Paris market, one will be put to shame and sent to purgatory or worse, missing a finger.
            When we travel and if food is of interest, we tend to search for the best. Sometimes, this distorts our perception. I've had flavorless strawberries, less than stellar peaches, hard tomatoes from Morocco and Sicily from the markets in Paris. Most of the time, it is due to my weakness of saving a few cents because they are cheaper than the next vendor. And some of the produce at Monoprix and Franprix are not much above what I find at American supermarkets.

            3 Replies
            1. re: PBSF

              Oregon cherry acreage: 13,150 (650 for tart cherries)
              http://oregonfresh.net/education/oreg...

              Michigan cherry acreage: 30,000
              Michigan produces 80% of the tart cherry crop grown in the US, which puts it in first place for production.
              http://www.ipmcenters.org/cropprofile...

              You were saying?

              1. re: sunshine842

                Thanks for the facts on cherry production. Isn't much of Michigan cherry crop is the tart variety, mostly use for processing such as pie filling, jam, juice, dried, frozen. The sweet variety is used to make maraschino cherries.
                Washington, Oregon and California produce more than 90 percent of the sweet cherries in America, much of it sold fresh.
                My bad for not being specific on the types of cherries; also instead of Washington, should be the Pacific Northwest.

                1. re: PBSF

                  but I'll offer up that maraschino cherries is a tiny, tiny corner of the market for cherries.

            2. The French system might offer slightly better food than what is available in US supermarkets but it comes at a much higher price. They spend more than twice as much on their food, by percentage of income, (see attachment) than we do. I don't want to pay twice as much for my food and I'd bet an overwhelming percentage of the US population wouldn't either.
              http://www.motherjones.com/blue-marbl...

              8 Replies
              1. re: zackly

                Very true. I can buy extraordinary meat, fish and produce but it isn't cheap. I took a visiting hound to my local market and he agreed that the stuff looked great but that it was horribly expensive.

                In the US, those with income for good food eat well. Those struggling can't even afford supermarket produce. In the country, I frequently see older shoppers pick up a package of meat (at home, I wouldn't touch packaged meat!), glance at the price, shake their head and put it back. No way would or could these people pay more for top quality. I don't think that fresh produce is in their vocabulary.

                1. re: mangeur

                  Agreed, we need to find ways to produce CHEAPER food in the US because there are so many needy people who can't pay current prices and I think it's only going to get worse.

                  1. re: mangeur

                    In the past few years, I been shocked by the produce prices at the supermarkets such as Safeway and Lucky in the San Francisco Bay Area. I don't know if it is my faulty memory but until about 10 years ago, prices used to be very reasonable and not much more than most ethnic markets. Now, unless they are on the 'weekly sales', I see zucchini and broccoli at $2 a pound regardless of the season, peaches and nectarine at $3, run of the mill onions at $1. Many ethnic markets sell them at less than half of their prices. I think supermarkets changed their produce pricing structure/policy some years ago. No wonder, low income people can't afford to buy fresh produce.

                    1. re: PBSF

                      We buy much produce at a weekly flea market. Purchased by the seller at the end of the business week, we find ready-to-eat fruit, often organic, at very reasonable prices. Many shoppers are ethnic and indeed eagerly shop here. In fact, I would propose that immigrants bring with them a much higher familiarity with and desire for fresh produce than do natives here. Somewhere in the middle of the last century, America became a processed food junky, only compounded by the length of their work week and commute.

                      1. re: mangeur

                        I'll agree with that -- Other than the 3x-weekly market in my town, the best source for fresh produce was very, very often the ethnic groceries, particularly the Portuguese grocery at the edge of town. Always excellent produce, usually at prices better than the supermarkets. (and lots of immigrant-centric stuff that the French don't/won't eat -- sweet corn, okra, greens, sweet potatoes, etc -- and hot chiles for salsa!)

                        1. re: mangeur

                          There are bargains if one shop near the end of the shift at most farmers markets in the SF Bay Area. I go the Alemany on Saturday afternoon before vendors pack up or around 12:30pm Saturday at the San Mateo market, lots of discount for bulk buying. The SF Ferry Plaza might be the few exceptions. Most can't afford fruits at $4.80/lb at Fog Hollow who has become a big business.

                      2. re: mangeur

                        My frame of reference is fairly recent (just a year of first-hand shopping experience) -- and I still get sale notices from the supermarket chains by email, so I'm still able to compare weekly specials.

                        Produce prices in the US are now higher than they are in France for the same items, sometimes shockingly so, and the quality comparison is a non-question.

                        Much as I love Publix, they drive me bonkers. I cannot buy Georgia peaches at Publix --- California windowbreakers only -- and the stupid truck has to come THROUGH Georgia! I live near the capital of salad-vegetable production in Florida -- and where do the tomatoes come from? CALIFORNIA.

                        This is stupid and wasteful (of time, money, and resources) and is counterproductive to supporting local economies.

                        I rebel and buy local produce whenever possible, including u-picks.

                      3. re: zackly

                        I'm surprised to see a "progressive" publication like Mother Jones refer to the USA as "America".

                        I live in Québec, and while we spend less on solid food than our cousins in France, we spend a hell of a lot more on wine! Moreover, cheese is cheaper in France than here, and they have a longer season for fresh produce. Don't know how all this compares to our friendly neighbours in the USA...

                      4. I think one the of the reasons why France can support smaller markets as compared to the US is, People work many more hours in the US, leading them to the big box stores for one stop shopping. Even if you knew where to buy good, local produce does the 20 minute drive (one way) make it worth the effort?
                        Where as in France, which seems to run in the top 4 or 5 countries working the fewest hours, plus their mandated 30 vacation. It leaves a lot of time to shop and support local merchants.
                        It is a cultural thing where in other countries to shop for strawberries at one vendor, potatoes at another, swing by the meat market for a chicken and then stop on the way home to buy laundry detergent, is just the way things are done.
                        In the US it's, hit the big store, get in and out with not a whole lot that can be done about quality because Suzy needs to get to soccer practice and Billy has a ball game.

                        44 Replies
                          1. re: genoO

                            even the big-box groceries though, have big signs advertising the French vendors -- the farmer's name, with a photo of him and details as to where is farm is located, whose goods are on display that week. It's also a huge thing that everything in the produce section MUST have the country of origin listed. Many things produced in France will tell you what region!

                            If you think that French families don't do all their shopping at a grocery, you've never braved an Auchan or Carrefour on a Saturday morning (it's kinda scary and best avoided)...they DO do their main shops at the big stores. They supplement from the markets, if they have time.

                            It's a cultural complete lack of tolerance for square pink tomatoes that were picked while green and gassed en route that the US is sadly all too willing to accept.

                            1. re: sunshine842

                              I agree with sunshine in that it seems a fallacy to suggest that the French shun the major supermarket chains. Perhaps once upon a time. Before leaving France from our (usually) annual trip, we always visit a very large Carrefour to buy things that are cheaper there than in the UK (usually booze and dishwasher powder). It's packed with French people doing a "major shop" - doesnt matter if its weekend or midweek, early morning or late afternoon - always busy.

                              Go to a small town (such as the one I'm generally visiting), you'll find that the local Auchan is, again, busy. The small specialist shops, such as bakers, are doing OK by way of customers but really no different from how busy the local baker is where I live in north west England.

                              1. re: Harters

                                Well, what I see in the food market street of rue des Martyrs outside my window is this:
                                Yes the supermarkets Carrefour, Franprix and Monop have a lot of shoppers, are open late, and are the unmistakable one-stop shopping option.
                                Right next to the supermarkets are butchers and cheesemongers and fruit&veg vendors, that also enjoy great neighborhood support. Many shoppers, like me, do bypass convenience and prefer quality. No way do the supermarkets offer me the same quality as my fave butchers, cheesemongers and fruit&veg vendors. We'd go to the supermarkets to get things like toilet paper, then come out and queue again in the real food shops. I'd imagine that in a desperate time crunch, I may buy meats and fruit and veg in Carrefour, but I don't remember having been that desperate.

                                1. re: Harters

                                  I think you misunderstood. I said the French, due to having more free time, can and do look for other markets. I did not say they avoided the box store.

                                  1. re: genoO

                                    but not really. The opening hours preclude having the free time to do much shopping of any kind.

                                    Despite the propagation of the myth of the 35-hour work week, the reality is that most folks don't leave the office until 6 or after.

                                    The stores (including groceries) close by 7 or 8 in small towns -- 9 or 9:30 if you're lucky ,so by the time you get home and have dinner, you're not going back out to the stores. Add homework and bedtime, and it's next to impossible.

                                    On the weekends, nothing opens til 9 am, closing at 9 or 9:30. Some schools still have classes on Saturday mornings, but kids have sports on Saturday, so still not much shopping time.

                                    Sundays, the grocery stores are all closed by noon or 12:30 -- and absolutely nothing is open on Sunday afternoons.

                                    1. re: sunshine842

                                      I found the French shop hours worked quite well. They tend to open slightly later in the morning, and some will close for a long lunch until 3 or 4:00, the stay open until 7:00 or later.

                                      I worked from 8:30 to about 6:00* and was usually home by 6:30 so was able to pop around the corner to pick up some fresh foods. So the shop hours fitted the rhythm of work. I lived in central Paris so wouldn't drive to the shops so that limited the size of the weekly shop, thus we shopped more frequently.

                                      We occasionally did a big shop at a supermarket but central Paris doesn't rally have big ones so this was limited. Our biggest shops tended to be to stock up the cella - so a trip out to the Champagne houses to buy €14 bottles (case price) was a big excursion.

                                      But Paris shopping is a bit different to many other parts of France which have easy car access to big supermarkets and easier commuting to and from home.

                                      * I worked for a US company and found the actual hours worked were similar in most countries. My US colleagues tended to start very early but also tended to leave quite early - the US HQ building was pretty empty at 5:00. The French HQ was still busy at 6:00 but quite empty at 9:00.

                                      Interestingly I found my US colleagues would arrive early and go to the canteen for breakfast so were not really "at their desks until 8:30". Whilst my French colleagues needed caffeine and nicotine so stood in the garden "networking" until 9:30....so no real differences apart from the nicotine consumption.

                                      1. re: PhilD

                                        my experience is different, because we lived on the outskirts, and there was a commute to deal with, even if you didn't work in the city.

                                        If you worked in Paris, it was a 45-minute trip each way (the same for the colleagues who lived in Paris but worked in the suburbs -- NOT the banlieus, by the way)

                                        1. re: sunshine842

                                          Actually, banlieues means "suburbs", and la banlieue is "suburbia". The poor and dodgy suburbs are "la zone", or "les cités" (referring to housing estates). Sarkozy is from Neuilly, a very wealthy suburb of Paris and one of the wealthiest towns in France. There are also many, many middle-class suburbs that are neither posh nor dodgy.

                                          1. re: lagatta

                                            even though the dictionary says that "banlieu" is the same thing as "suburb", the actual usage is not.

                                            "Banlieu" carries with it a pretty hefty weight of socio-cultural-economic issues.

                                            I just lived in a small town just outside of Paris.

                                            (some of the maps included my area in the the "banlieus", some did not -- so even the cartographers can't agree)

                                            1. re: sunshine842

                                              "Banlieue". http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banlieue

                                              My colleagues in France tend to disagree with you, but this is a forum on food, not language use. You can read more about this debate in the wiki article.

                                              1. re: lagatta

                                                Banlieue is absolutely the same thing as suburb.

                                              2. re: sunshine842

                                                I get sunshine's point. La banlieue around Paris is sometimes not the same as suburbia in the USA because many Paris suburbs are pockets of deprivation and poverty (much like the "inner city" in the USA). Banlieue and even more so banlieusard/ suburbanite have therefore acquired a somewhat pejorative implication in popular language (although it does vary by generation). To avoid misinterpretation I rarely use the word "banlieue" any more when talking to other Parisiens of my generation and more commonly refer to the suburb by its name or departement number.

                                                1. re: Parnassien

                                                  Thank you, Parnassien -- that's exactly what I was referring to.

                                                  For a large part of my time in France, "banlieu" was uttered with a curl of the lip that left no doubt as to the meaning...and many times heard people on buses and trains talking about leaving the banlieu as an aspiration, and NOT liking to be categorized as living in the banlieu.

                                                  My experience was very much that it carries the same connotation as 'ghetto'.

                                                  1. re: Parnassien

                                                    Just for the sake of fairness (not wishing to be contrarian to you in any manner) and to avoid inducing our co-posters into a biased understanding of simple French language, let me just add that these subtleties aren't universally shared, far from it. On my part I do not know of such a distinction and no one close to me uses it.

                                                    Actually I have heard the single term "banlieue" meant to depict rough parts of the Parisian suburbs, but only from a certain kind of people who haven't much experience of whatever goes on beyond the périph' and wouldn't be caught dead in any place there, or believe their throat would be cut as soon as they got out of the métro at Aubervilliers.

                                                    The word "banlieue" is not at all synonymous of "ghetto" — in that case the term "la zone" is used as more appropriate. Banlieue only means suburbs of Paris, i.e. what is beyond the périphérique, to a distance of roughly 30 kms all around.

                                                    I'll also add that the distinction mentioned above does not describe the banlieues but rather belongs to the mentality that creates and perpetuates the aforementioned ghettos. For it is conveying a false image of the suburbs. Much of the suburbs is not a ghetto, far from it. There are all sorts of banlieues: banlieue chic (posh suburbs, arguably some sort of ghetto per se), banlieue rouge (or ceinture rouge, a peripheral zone of cities who have or have had communist mayors since the Afterwar), banlieue pavillonnaire (small houses rather than big housing projects), banlieue verte (with a lot of forests and greenery), grande banlieue (more than 30 minutes by RER), petite banlieue, etc.

                                                    1. re: Ptipois

                                                      Agree to most of what you say. In theory you are quite right. But in practice, "banlieue" and "banlieusard" have somehow acquired pejorative connoctations. Maybe the implications are more obvious to my generation than yours. It's just much more respectful to the residents of "la zone" (a term preferred by most of the younger residents of poor and deprived suburbs) to avoid the words banlieue and banlieusard because of these connoctations.

                                                      1. re: Parnassien

                                                        "Maybe the implications are more obvious to my generation than yours. "
                                                        But you are the same generation.

                                                        1. re: Parigi

                                                          Cixi, I'm invoking the under-40 vs over-40 rule.

                                                          1. re: Parnassien

                                                            Not buying that rule at all. Under-40s around me refer to banlieues the same way as their elders. Maybe it's a matter of social milieu, I'd rather believe that.

                                                            Besides, banlieues are great: they have Grand Frais. Being stranded at the Ibis Narbonne for a few days (and eating at Gril Courtepaille, whatcha say foodies?), I've just been to one for the sake of research. I was literaly dazzled. A cook's dream come true, and I just got out with four rare Pavie peaches, two beautiful white peaches and 1 kilo of pluots for 4 euros.

                                                            1. re: Ptipois

                                                              Glad you liked it!

                                                              (my sympathies on the Courtepaille, but you could have been stuck with Buffalo or Hippo....)

                                                              1. re: Ptipois

                                                                "I've just been to one for the sake of research. I was literaly dazzled. A cook's dream come true, and I just got out with four rare Pavie peaches, two beautiful white peaches and 1 kilo of pluots for 4 euros."
                                                                I read this several times, rubbed my eyes raw before I realized you were no longer talking about Courtepaille

                                                                    1. re: Ptipois

                                                                      It's not, by a pretty wide margin, the worst of the chains that are out there.

                                                                      Their meats, especially are quite tasty, and grilled very well.

                                                                      (our last holiday in France was in Burgundy -- two of us had rotten colds, and the third was coming down with it. We ate at the Courtepaille in Dijon because we were exhausted, starving, and two of us didn't have tastebuds to speak of, so we had dinner and went back to the hotel to sleep it off.)

                                                                        1. re: John Talbott

                                                                          Good Lord. I've been trying to break that image of "eats-only-haute-gastronomie" for ages but nobody listens. Friends still hesitate to invite me over for dinner and when they do, they apologize in advance. I hate fussy food. I love andouillette grillée, pied de cochon, street food, rillettes from le charcutier, gloppy curry tonkatsu, saucisson sec and buttered tartines.
                                                                          And entrecôte from Courtepaille, yes.

                                                                          1. re: Ptipois

                                                                            Well I must admit I've only eaten at one Courtepaille and that in Provence many years ago. Maybe I'm just a snob about that, Flunch and McDo's; but I'm not demented enough yet to try.

                                                                            1. re: John Talbott

                                                                              it's really not bad -- and a whole lot better than eating the cardboard sandwiches sold at most of the aires!

                                                                              1. re: John Talbott

                                                                                I would put Flunch and Macdo in a different category.

                                                                                1. re: John Talbott

                                                                                  I confess to having visited the Flunch at Cite Europe (near Calais). It was OK and, by no means, the worst food I've eaten in France. Not even the worst food I've eaten at Cite Europe.

                                                    2. re: sunshine842

                                                      Only local Maghrebi (North African) or Southeast Asian shops, which like "corner shops" everywhere, are much more expensive.

                                                      But France is a shoppers' paradise compared with its German neighbour.

                                                  2. re: Harters

                                                    I'd like to find out about the fruit in a French supermarket (I can't remember the last time I bought fruit at one). Is it like in the US? Hard peaches, pears, plums, and tomatoes that don't ripen properly?

                                                    1. re: Steve

                                                      Have bought French-grown gariguette strawberries, ripe apricots, greengages and persimmons, and reliably good melons in season from Franprix etc. Not the same thing as the ones from the producers' stands at the market, but very acceptable for off-hours shopping, and everything clearly labelled by origin.

                                                      1. re: Steve

                                                        there is some, but it's mostly stuff brought in from Chile or Africa in the dead of winter when it's not in season anyway.

                                                        (In the wintertime, we looked forward to clementines from Morocco and Spain, succulent litchis from Madagascar, and luscious Kenyan pineapple. Those are the good ones.)

                                                        1. re: Steve

                                                          In a French supermarket it's all the same: hard peaches, tennis-ball apricots, tasteless tomatoes all the same size. Of course some supermarkets are better than others. You do find decent fruit and vegetables in some of them. We do have open markets, but sometimes I wish we had Whole Foods as well.

                                                          However French supermarkets are to be studied with a sensible magnifier because the word "supermarket" does not say it all. The issue is complex. The local/seasonal food distribution system also applies to supermarkets here. Look through the aisles of any supermarket in the provinces, you will find extraordinary rare local produce that would be extremely difficult to come across on markets or in smaller shops. At Carrefour Noirmoutier there's Beillevaire butter in the aisles. At Carrefour Andernos, a rare brand of very good local red wine vinegar perfect for oysters. At a Leclerc in Seine-et-Marne you'll find Martin Pouret Orléans mustard more easily than in Paris. All supermarket chains in Finistère and Morbihan carry a superb brand of farm-made butter that you will find only at the farm otherwise, etc. If you know how to search and have an eye for good products, French supermarkets are locavore heaven, although fresh fruit and vegetables are usually a weak point.

                                                          1. re: Ptipois

                                                            Pti, I know they're not in the city, but Grand Frais is at least in the same orbit as Whole Foods.

                                                            If you can get out to one, they generally have excellent produce, and they usually contract with a butcher, so you have both under one roof.

                                                            Prices are a little more than the grocery, but the quality tends to be extremely reliable.

                                                              1. re: Ptipois

                                                                http://www.grandfrais.com/recherchema...

                                                                I *loved* shopping at Grand Frais - they were my go-to if I couldn't get to the market for some reason - plus they were on my way home from work.

                                                                The butchers that they're contracted with in the Seine-et-Marne are really, really good -- one of their specialties was brochettes, and they were really exceptionally good -- nice veggies and very generous, very tender chunks of several kinds of meat (some marinated, some not

                                                                )

                                                                They also have lot of other little goodies -- fruits seches, olives of all types, and were one of the few places that *always* had fresh pecans, pumpkins (I used potirons), and cranberries at Thanksgiving.

                                                                1. re: sunshine842

                                                                  Thanks! I'll give it a try.
                                                                  That looks really interesting and filling a gap in French food distribution.

                                                                  1. re: sunshine842

                                                                    good lord.

                                                                    Fruits secs.

                                                                    (some days I have a brain fart, other days, it just messes its trousers.)

                                                                    and no, that's not fruit sex, just in case anyone wondered.

                                                              2. re: Ptipois

                                                                Thanks for the reply. Does the weak produce apply even if its in season?

                                                                1. re: Steve

                                                                  Strictly speaking, even the 'weak' product is available only in season.

                                                                  You will seldom find peaches, cherries or apricots out of season, supermarket or not (unless they're flown from the Southern hemisphere). The main problem is that peaches for supermarket distribution are picked unripe. Some of them do not ripen properly after purchase. Some are picked a little later to allow for proper ripening. You can get ripe peaches on markets and at smaller stores, or on trees. If you get them from a supermarket, you have to choose the ones that are not stone-hard, bring them home and hope for the best. If you buy, say, a crate of peaches from the producer on the side of the road, you'll be able to eat them earlier, right away if you wish.

                                                                  Strawberries arrive very early (January) from Spain but I wouldn't touch them until proper seasonality brings the ones from Dordogne, Gard, or other French regions. Now the strawberry season seems to have become longer since when I was a child; it continues until September with the maras des bois.

                                                                  Cherries also can be found later than I remember, back in the 80s they were gone by late June, now you can find them until August.

                                                                  Fruit that you can find pretty much all the year round is apples, grapefruits and oranges. Naturally they have a season too, and they are better from late Fall to late Winter.

                                                                  1. re: Ptipois

                                                                    I remember one snowy winter morning -- the folks I bought most of my produce from were calling out about their fresh grapefruit *Direct From Florida!*

                                                                    When they realized I was standing there in the line, there was a comment about how Madame la Floridienne might not think they were special, but they really were! (To much laughter all around....I thought they were special, too.)

                                                                    1. re: sunshine842

                                                                      They are special. And can be very delicious when not too sour.

                                                      2. The problem with getting food sourced from neighboring states or regions is distribution. Food activists are explaining the need for food "hubs" that can distribute food from farm to table locally. There is very little infrastructure for that right now.

                                                        I heard Waunonah Hauter of Food & Water Watch and author of "Foodopoly" talk about this last year, and our local Young Farmers Assn and many other farm/gardening groups are tackling this problem. Local distribution systems are not there to support the small farmer. I believe there is one large corporate distributor west of the Mississippi that supplies Whole Foods and other "organic" markets, and another one (Sysco?) that supplies most restaurants and mainstream grocery stores. It's a very tight system that needs to be changed.

                                                        18 Replies
                                                        1. re: sandiasingh

                                                          When I hear words like "local", "small farmer", "farmer's market', "organic" "sustainable" my wallet flinches. If change can be made to improve quality without raising prices (or better yet lowering prices) I'm all in but if it only benefits the affluent or those willing to pay more for food I don't think that's change for the good in this country.

                                                          1. re: zackly

                                                            "If change can be made to improve quality without raising prices..."

                                                            Dream on dreamer.

                                                            I call this Old (Wo)Man thinking. My SO and I actually have promised to kick each other in the shins if we see that thinking raising it's ugly head. For instance: I still think I should be able to buy decent, leather, Made-In-The USA shoes for $20 a pair...*WHACK*.
                                                            Ouch.

                                                            Back to Planet Earth.

                                                            Raising food costs MONEY. And prices, both for production and at the retail selling point, tend to RISE.
                                                            Good food costs more money than cardboard crap.
                                                            Eating better quality food, but in lesser quantity is an option.

                                                            Raising your own is another.

                                                            Best wishes!

                                                            1. re: pedalfaster

                                                              @pedalfaster: Thank you! Quality does cost more. Americans seem to be conditioned to expect more for less, at all times. If the tables were reversed and those people were expected to do more for less at their jobs, they'd be upset. But it's OK as long as someone else is getting shortchanged?

                                                              1. re: pedalfaster

                                                                "Eating better quality food, but in lesser quantity is an option."

                                                                This certainly works with chocolate and ice cream.

                                                                1. re: pedalfaster

                                                                  "Eating better quality food, but in lesser quantity is an option"

                                                                  When I'm served better quality food I eat more of it, not less. Most people eat until their appetites are sated. Not eating when you are hungry is like not drinking when you are thirsty or not breathing when you need a breath. It's unnatural.

                                                                  1. re: zackly

                                                                    but when you are served better quality food, you're satiated more quickly, because you're actually tasting what it is you want to taste.

                                                                    1. re: sunshine842

                                                                      I don't know if I buy that theory. I know different foods have more ability to satisfy than others do as explained in this article. How do you define better quality food?
                                                                      http://www.eufic.org/article/en/artid...

                                                                  2. re: pedalfaster

                                                                    "Good food costs more money than cardboard crap."

                                                                    The prices in the regular supermarkets near me are sky high. Like I said before, people will pay a premium for theose gorgeous looking rocks.

                                                                    I can get lower prices and better produce at the Asian superstores.

                                                                    1. re: Steve

                                                                      or the Hispanic grocery near me, or the Middle Eastern grocer....

                                                                      1. re: Steve

                                                                        I live only several blocks from SF's second Chinatown (as opposed to first or third, fourth, et al). I have access to brilliantly fresh fish, decent pork and poultry, certain acceptable cuts of beef and tons of very reasonable produce. There is even an Asian run organic produce store that sells excellent stuff at well below Whole Foods.

                                                                        I shop the carriage trade markets for superior beef and best quality poultry.

                                                                  3. re: sandiasingh

                                                                    This continues to be an interesting discussion. If I can summarize, I think the main points are:

                                                                    1. There is a better appreciation for ripe, delicious, fruit and good food in France vs the States. There are a number of reasons for this, not the least of which is because French children are fed great food from the get go.

                                                                    2. Distribution remains an issue, as Sandiasingh points out.

                                                                    I just read an article on the US Department of Agriculture website about how to get "local" meat to consumers who are increasingly demanding it. Meat must be processed and inspected and a barrier has been lack of processing and inspection plants that smaller farmers can use, i.e. are not too far away and will process relatively small amounts.

                                                                    The article profiles 6 small/regional processing plants and how they work. The bottom line is it is all about commitment on both sides to deliver for the other and consistent follow through. This means the farmer agrees to deliver X amount of cattle to the processor who agrees to process X amount of beef and there is good and on-going communication between farmer and processor. More of a partnership between the two.

                                                                    It is being done, however, and their might be hope for peach farmers and consumers in Georgia, to say nothing of cherry farmers in Michigan and consumers (me) in Ohio.

                                                                    3. Price is an issue for now, at least, but might be helped by better distribution systems.

                                                                    1. re: antonia2

                                                                      Meat processing is a huge issue for small to mid-size cattle ranchers. We get all of our meat from a Colorado farmer who raises grass fed beeves, pork and lamb. It is the best meat I have ever had so we are loyal customers. I have talked to him and his wife about the difficulty they had a couple of years ago finding meat processors in Colorado/NM. They were successful, but if there isn't a meat processor within close range, you can go out of business.

                                                                      1. re: sandiasingh

                                                                        Sandiasingh. this is really weird, asking on a French Board how do I find the processor you get meat from in Colorado? Getting Colorado Lamb in CO is a real challenge.

                                                                        BlueOx

                                                                        1. re: BlueOx

                                                                          Our supplier is Kretsinger Beef (KW Farms) in the San Luis Valley in SW Colorado. Here is their website:

                                                                          http://www.kretsingerbeef.com/p/blog-...

                                                                          If you go to the tab "Order Form" and scroll down to the bottom you will see their lamb listings. The supply is quite limited. I believe last year they had nine sheep and this year they will have more because the demand is high. It won't be ready until the fall.

                                                                          John and Trudi Kretsinger are true blue, down-to-earth ranchers. They collect orders, come through town once a month (they make several stops between CO and Albuquerque and are also at some area farmers markets--see their website) and you go meet them and pick up your order. They are salt of the earth types and very dedicated to grass fed, organic meat.

                                                                      2. re: antonia2

                                                                        If folks stopped buying those rock hard peaches in the supermarket, they wouldn't carry them. Nobody has to eat peaches, they aren't a staple.

                                                                        My household is a perfect microcosm of this. My wife wants to buy peaches when she wants to buy them, and the fact they taste terrible doesn't matter to her. I wait for summer and go to the fruit stands. I can go most of the year without eating peaches; I'm ok with that. My wife and most of the mainstream food shoppers will put up with lousy summer peaches to be able to get lousy peaches year round.

                                                                        1. re: Steve

                                                                          that was probably one of the most profound changes in my thinking that occurred when we lived in France.

                                                                          Things that are fresh and local are cheap -- so it makes it really, REALLY easy to eat by the seasons.

                                                                          1. re: Steve

                                                                            As Coluche is known to have said, "If people stopped buying that stuff, it wouldn't sell anymore…"

                                                                            1. re: Ptipois

                                                                              It seems to be changing, a tiny bit by tiny bit....it takes a long time to change the momentum on a machine this big.

                                                                              But artisanal cheese, small brewers -- hopefully within our lifetime people will have realized what "local" means, and everyone will be better off for it.

                                                                              (for the record, I wouldn't buy one of those rock-hard fuzzy green projectiles from California if they were a penny a pound. They look awful, have no smell, and as far as I can tell, aren't good for much more than demolition of large structures.)

                                                                      3. I wonder if the farmer's cooperative system makes the biggest difference in getting great food to the market in France. Organized by sector but also by region and locality, the fragmented farmer's coops don't have the economies of scale that encourage much of the sameness that you find in other countries.

                                                                        18 Replies
                                                                        1. re: Parnassien

                                                                          Parnasien,

                                                                          I believe you are right! When you google "Farmer's Cooperative in France", one of the things that turns up is a 127 page Report commissioned by the European Union that talks about the important and strategic role that farmer's cooperative play throughout Europe in making sure that farmer's produce gets to market, that there are markets that are prepared to distribute to small and medium sized enterprises that then sell to consumers. Thus the demand for good fruit and vegetables is able to be satisfied.

                                                                          There is also a smaller article that says 75% of French farmers are members of these Cooperatives.

                                                                          Now I know!

                                                                          Thanks.

                                                                          1. re: antonia2

                                                                            The farmers cooperatives in France seem to preserve and encourage locavore and "terroir" tendencies. I have not been to the wholesale market at Rungis for a very long time but do remember being quite impressed by how important the source seemed to be in marketing the products... lots and lots of products under the aegis of this or that cooperative... I doubt if it has changed. Similarly, in the provinces I often see promotions of local products from this or that farmers' coop in the supermarkets and hypermarchés.

                                                                            I doubt that the Safeway in Santa Rosa has a big display of Sonoma products.

                                                                            I know from shopping in the neighbourhood "marchés" with me gran that the most sellers know exactly what locality their produce has come from.

                                                                            1. re: Parnassien

                                                                              when I taught English in a French high school, I tried to have a 'word of the day' every day. This word could come from something I heard on the radio or TV, a conversation with a student, or might have something to do with the lessons for the week.

                                                                              One day the word was 'locavore'. I wrote on the board and explained that it meant eating mostly or totally food produced within a set distance (150km, 250km) of your home.

                                                                              I turned around to be met with a classroom full of puzzled faces -- finally one young man asked, "this is not normal?"

                                                                              It registered that for them, "locavore" doesn't even have an equivalent phrase (well, it does -- it's locavore...) -- because that's how you're supposed to eat....

                                                                              Not sure who learned more that day.

                                                                              (it also became the basis for a lesson about the US food distribution chain...they were fascinated and horrified)

                                                                              1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                (in a similar vein)
                                                                                When I was a teenager in Paris, I didn't know the word locavore either... but I did know "terroir", the taste of a particular place/ geography. Of course "terroir" is now more usually applied to wine but it has broader applications. Even as a kid I could taste the difference in Mara des bois strawberries from the Pays d'Auge compared to Périgord. I knew that the milk from Normandie was different than the milk from Aquitaine. I knew that when on holiday in, say, Bordeaux or La Baule I knew I had to shift my preferences from what I liked in Paris to what was good in Gironde or Bretagne/ Loire-Atlantique.

                                                                                When travelling the 3000 miles coast-to-coast in the USA, I never discovered the same sort of "terroir" that you can find just by driving 50 km in France.

                                                                                1. re: Parnassien

                                                                                  there is, but to a much lesser degree...There's always an argument about tomatoes -- and everyone's local tomatoes are always the best. (New Jersey, INdiana, and Florida come to mind, but everyone loves their own tomatoes!)

                                                                                  I've heard similar arguments about cherries, apples, and peaches, too -- but nothing on the scale that France attains.

                                                                                  (oh, dear God -- not strawberries from Spain. Even if they come from 5 miles down the road, on the other side of the French border, they're French, so they must be better!)

                                                                                  1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                    Sunshine,
                                                                                    Spain is the usual source of strawberries in late winter/ early spring... but production there is mostly on an industrial scale like in California so the quality/ freshness/ variety is not always impressive, at least not what we usually get in Paris from them. Maybe it's the trip from Andalusia. Once you can get strawberries from fields a few hours from Paris, there's no comparison and no need for Spanish ones. I suppose if I lived in the south of France, northern Spain would be part of my strawberry "terroir"... but not from Huelva/ Andalusia where 90% of Spanish strawberries come from.

                                                                                    Tomatoes ? Nobody can beat Turkish and Lebanese... but only when you are in Turkey or the Lebanon. Freshness and terroir are essential.

                                                                                    1. re: Parnassien

                                                                                      But I *know* you've heard that same conversation. It was posted with tongue firmly in cheek, but since that doesn't affect my fingers, any ,it was hard to tell.

                                                                                2. re: sunshine842

                                                                                  Can't resist posting a couple of links to an ex-Californian Paris-resident blogger who reckons America (or at least California) does better on high-quality, locavore, organic etc etc produce.

                                                                                  http://www.davidlebovitz.com/2007/06/...
                                                                                  http://www.davidlebovitz.com/2006/05/...

                                                                                  1. re: shakti2

                                                                                    Just want to point out that the dates of the two posts were 2006 and 2007. There has been big changes in the Paris restaurant and food scene since then. And after living in Paris for another 8 years, wonder if Mr. Lebovitz's views are still the same.

                                                                                3. re: Parnassien

                                                                                  It will be interesting to see if the trend toward locavore that is now here in the States translates into more regional distribution and more farmer's cooperatives. The article about European cooperatives pointed out that they have a long history in Europe; certainly less so in the US which is definitely a factor.

                                                                                  We just picked up our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) and although they don't grow any fruit, we do get a wonderful array of vegetables. We stopped at a local farms stand on our way back to look for local peaches. The one's they had were from Virginia, not exactly local, but closer then California where most peaches are grown.

                                                                                  We live in a rural part of southwest Ohio and, although I appreciate all of what we DO get, I know that if this were rural France, there would be a LOT more.

                                                                              2. re: Parnassien

                                                                                And of course the farmers are very organised and thus a strong political lobby in France.

                                                                                  1. re: mangeur

                                                                                    but in a profoundly different way.

                                                                                    1. re: mangeur

                                                                                      Maybe this gives a clue to the answer.

                                                                                      In the US you have a large industrialised agri-business closely integrated with massive retailer. A big corporate group with similar interests and the ability to spend $150 million on lobbyists.

                                                                                      In France the agricultural sector is made up of lots of smaller producers with very loose integration with retailers. They don't use lobbyists they simply block ports and cities and burn offending produce in the streets. Lots of passionate small producers.

                                                                                      1. re: PhilD

                                                                                        At the risk of seeming pernickety...

                                                                                        The Common Agriculture Policy (the PAC in French), of which a large chunk of of the European Union's budget goes to, and whose polices support, a lot of the time, intensive big agriculture to the detriment of smaller "friendlier", and often "tastier" methods of farming, exists largely through the efforts of the French farming lobby. French agriculture, for bad or for worse, is very a powerful lobby in France and in Brussels and receives by far the biggest cut of the PAC, which, pour info, represents 43% of the EU budget.

                                                                                        1. re: vielleanglaise

                                                                                          Very true - however isn't it also correct to say that the CAP also supports many traditional, often relatively inefficifient practices as a result of the same lobby.

                                                                                          It's a bit of a paradox that a policy can seem to result in both industrialised farming and small local practices benefiting at the same time but this seems to be what happens.

                                                                                          No doubt as a result of the very strong French farmers lobby which tends to influence via the ballot box with strong local support. The agribusiness lobby in countries like the UK will lobby in the traditional way but they don't influence the voters as much as the small French farmer.

                                                                                          And doesn't this really mean the great local produce in France is subsidised by the UK's net contribution to the EU so everyone should thank them for the quality of food in France ;-)

                                                                                          1. re: PhilD

                                                                                            There are nice, touchy-feely farming lobbies in France, like the Confédeation Paysanne, but also meaner ones who lobby and obtain the rights to do lots of dodgy things to our food...or perhaps the nasty French veal industry, which dominates Europe, is an example "great local produce"?

                                                                                            1. re: vielleanglaise

                                                                                              Agree - France has a complex multi-layered agricultural industry. I think the cute "rose tinted" view is all too often a romantic view of everyone eatinging wonderful artisan produce bought fresh each day. It's like basing a view on US shopping based solely on the San Francisco farmers market and a few other SF specialit outlets.

                                                                                1. Here's a view from the other side of the road. In the seventies and eighties I worked with a number young French chefs who immigrated to New York City. They had all worked in Paris, many @ the Plaza Athénée where they met. Their opinion of the food they found here was "isn't this wonderful, you can get whatever you want whenever you want, you are not restricted by seasons"
                                                                                  Just saying...........