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Society

Let Them Bake Bread! France's Independent Bakeries Struggle To Survive

The baguette is now on UNESCO’s cultural heritage list. But France's independent bakeries are struggling to survive amid rising energy costs and competition from larger chains.

Someone baking break

In knead of some help...

Stephane Frachet

PARIS — The neighborhood baker is now a pillar of France’s culture. This is what UNESCO made clear by registering the baguette on its Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists, which was warmly welcomed by the French president Emmanuel Macron.

Six billion baguettes are made in France every year. But one question remains: will there still be independent bakeries in three to four decades?


The French National Confederation of Bakery and Pastry (CNBPF), which represents 35,000 artisan bakeries, is trying to stand out amid a boom in bakery and pastry chains.

"Laboratories" for baking

Underlying the CNBPF’s fight is the wider battle for the future of independent commerce. In 1970, there were around 50,000 independent bakeries. Now, 33,000 are still in operation, but that means that every year, 400 bakeries disappear in France according to the CNBPF.

To make croissants, pie shells and macarons, the larger chains rely on “laboratories” that transform many tons of wheat and butter.

“These are not factories. We automate without denaturing the product, without adding ingredients to the original recipe,” says Jean-François Feuillette, who runs bakery chain La Maison Feuillette.

Eric Kayser's Bakery in Paris, a famous bakery with several outlets around the country.

Scott Keeler on Zuma

No one wants to be a baker anymore

UNESCO’s recognition arrives just in time for independent and artisan bakeries. In 2020, the CNBPF launched a baker certification, but it requires an audit that only a handful of bakers can afford. And on top of that, energy bills keep rising.

The chains manage to overcome these difficulties because of bulk purchases on bigger volumes, says Nicolas Bécam, from Angers, who has just raised funds to deploy his network of Maison Bécam bakeries. Another thing that works in the chains' favor: their shops attract entrepreneurs who will be able to learn the job within the company and then open their own franchise.

“I get thousands of requests every year. I choose my partners on a personal basis, not on their baker’s resumes,” admits Jean-François Feuillette.

On the other hand, independents must already be a certified baker to open a store. Xavier Bordet, vice-president of a trade union in Arlanc, in central France, hopes that the UNESCO label will also strengthen his profession’s appeals to the younger generation, the competition goes beyond chain bakeries. “The job is not as attractive as it used to be,” he says.


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Green

The Problem With Always Blaming Climate Change For Natural Disasters

Climate change is real, but a closer look at the science shows there are many factors that contribute to weather-related disasters. It is important to raise awareness about the long-term impact of global warming, but there's a risk in overstating its role in the latest floods or fires.

People on foot, on bikes, motorcycles, scooters and cars navigate through a flooded street during the day time.

Karachi - People wade through flood water after heavy rain in a southern Pakistani city

Xinhua / ZUMA
Axel Bojanowski

-Analysis-

BERLIN — In September, thousands of people lost their lives when dams collapsed during flooding in Libya. Engineers had warned that the dams were structurally unsound.

Two years ago, dozens died in floods in western Germany, a region that had experienced a number of similar floods in earlier centuries, where thousands of houses had been built on the natural floodplain.

Last year saw more than 1,000 people lose their lives during monsoon floods in Pakistan. Studies showed that the impact of flooding in the region was exacerbated by the proximity of human settlements, the outdated river management system, high poverty rates and political instability in Pakistan.

There are many factors that contribute to weather-related disasters, but one dominates the headlines: climate change. That is because of so-called attribution studies, which are published very quickly after these disasters to highlight how human-caused climate change contributes to extreme weather events. After the flooding in Libya, German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung described climate change as a “serial offender," while the Tageszeitung wrote that “the climate crisis has exacerbated the extreme rainfall."

The World Weather Attribution initiative (WWA) has once again achieved its aim of using “real-time analysis” to draw attention to the issue: on its website, the institute says its goal is to “analyse and communicate the possible influence of climate change on extreme weather events." Frederike Otto, who works on attribution studies for the WWA, says these reports help to underscore the urgent need for climate action. They transform climate change from an “abstract threat into a concrete one."

In the immediate aftermath of a weather-related disaster, teams of researchers rush to put together attribution studies – “so that they are ready within the same news cycle," as the New York Times reported. However, these attribution studies do not meet normal scientific standards, as they are published without going through the peer-review process that would be undertaken before publication in a specialist scientific journal. And that creates problems.

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