Expecting The End Of The World? Run For The Hills ... In The South Of France

Its picturesque surroundings aside, what's bringing crowds to the French village of Bugarach are rumors that it will survive world destruction. A craze that is pushing up property prices, annoying inhabitants, and worrying the authorities.

Could the idyllic French region of Aude be home to an Apocalypse-free-zone? (Photo by Surimage)
Could the idyllic French region of Aude be home to an Apocalypse-free-zone? (Photo by Surimage)
Angélique Négroni

BUGARACH – On this rainy spring morning, the Pic de Bugarach in southern France is completely shrouded in mist. But though the 1,230 m (4,000 ft) high peak is invisible today, its rugged outline is known all over the world. Hundreds of websites are claiming that after an Apocalypse on December 21, 2012, only the small village of Bugarach, at the foot of this rocky citadel, will be left standing.

Apart from the free publicity, one of the first effects of the end-of-the-world prediction was a boost to the village's real estate market. "Fifteen houses are currently on sale. I have been mayor of Bugarach for 34 years, and I have never seen this before," says Jean Pierre Delord. The prices asked are four to five times higher than usual.

Not a day goes by without someone asking for information about Bugarach, located in the county of Aude, and about its capacities for accommodation and supplies. "Everyone knows that there might be snow and freezing temperatures in December, and that sleeping bags might not suffice. So people call us to rent rooms and ask us to stock food for them for the last two weeks of 2012," says a local saleswoman from behind her stall filled with foie gras and sausages. "We always tell them no," she says, visibly exasperated by all the "lies' circulating on the Internet.

The mayor of Bugarach is also worried about this planetary publicity, which has been attracting more than the usual number of esoteric workshop organizers (at exorbitant prices), therapists of all types, survivalists counting down the days left to go, or new age followers meditating to connect to the cosmos. Some of them stay in the youth hostel owned by Sigrid. Originally from Paris, she rather approves of the groups who discuss mysterious matters behind the closed doors of the conference room she provides. "They are very nice, calm clients. I have never had any problems with them," she says.

Combatting Cults?

Dressed in white, these peculiar tourists can be seen strolling around the town or taking refuge in the nearby caves for long contemplative retreats. Some of them gather in supposedly magical sites, and others attempt to climb the Pic de Bugarach. The automatic counters installed in the mountains are showing record numbers of hikers: 10,000 last year, and an estimated 20,000 this year. In some cases, lack of training has proved lethal. Two weeks ago, one of these hikers reached the peak only to succumb to a heart attack. "The end of the world came earlier for him," says the mayor with a touch of irony.

But Mr Delord does not hide his concern about the possible consequences of his town's extraordinary renown. Several months ago, he contacted the council, the police and Miviludes (the Interministerial Mission for Monitoring and Combatting Cultic Deviances), a French government agency that monitors potentially dangerous sects. The town is under guard.

This is because the Apocalyptic prediction is only the latest in a long line of crazy theories about Bugarach. "This place is bubbling with activity!" admits the mayor. It seems there are a hundred reasons to come to this town in the middle of nowhere. Ufologists often visit, convinced that the peak is a garage for UFOs. None has ever sighted a vessel here, but believers say this makes sense because they travel so fast. Other visitors are eager to benefit from the magnetic waves emitted by the "magic mountain," and find its "vortex," or the secret passage towards a lost civilization. And yet others come looking for a treasure that an abbot is supposed to have hidden more than a hundred years ago.

Around a year ago, yurts started springing up in the middle of the forest, inhabited by tree huggers wanting to go back to a more community-based way of life through Indian singing and non-violent communication. They don't think that the end of the world is near… just the end of our world as we know it! Hippie clothes and dreadlocks now mix with perfectly white togas. But Bugarach is also attracting nature lovers who simply come to enjoy the great outdoors, and they have accessories of their own: back-packs and hiking boots.

Read the full article in French.

Photo by Surimage

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The Food Truck, A Sign That The White And Wealthy Are Moving In

In San Diego, California, a researcher tracked how in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked dining options, when interesting eateries arrive the gentrification of white, affluent and college-educated people has begun.

Balboa Park Spring Fling Food Truck festival

San Diego Food Trucks via Facebook
Pascale Joassart-Marcelli

SAN DIEGO — Everybody, it seems, welcomes the arrival of new restaurants, cafés, food trucks and farmers markets.

What could be the downside of fresh veggies, homemade empanadas and a pop-up restaurant specializing in banh mis?

But when they appear in unexpected places – think inner-city areas populated by immigrants – they're often the first salvo in a broader effort to rebrand and remake the community. As a result, these neighborhoods can quickly become unaffordable and unrecognizable to longtime residents.

An appetite for gentrification

I live in San Diego, where I teach courses on urban and food geographies and conduct research on the relationship between food and ethnicity in urban contexts.

In recent years, I started to notice a pattern playing out in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked food options. More ethnic restaurants, street vendors, community gardens and farmers markets were cropping up. These, in turn, spurred growing numbers of white, affluent and college-educated people to venture into areas they had long avoided.

This observation inspired me to write a book, titled The $16 Taco, about how food – including what's seen as "ethnic," "authentic" or "alternative" – often serves as a spearhead for gentrification.

Take City Heights, a large multi-ethnic San Diego neighborhood where successive waves of refugees from places as far away as Vietnam and Somalia have resettled. In 2016, a dusty vacant lot on the busiest boulevard was converted into an outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44. There, food vendors gather in semi-permanent stalls to sell pupusas, lechon (roasted pig), single-sourced cold-brewed coffee, cupcakes and tamarind raspado (crushed ice) to neighborhood residents, along with tourists and visitors from other parts of the city.

Informal street vendors are casualties.

A public-private partnership called the City Heights Community Development Corporation, together with several nonprofits, launched the initiative to increase "access to healthy and culturally appropriate food" and serve as "a business incubator for local micro-entrepreneurs," including immigrants and refugees who live in the neighborhood.

On paper, this all sounds great.

But just a few blocks outside the gates, informal street vendors – who have long sold goods such as fruit, tamales and ice cream to residents who can't easily access supermarkets – now face heightened harassment. They've become causalities in a citywide crackdown on sidewalk vending spurred by complaints from business owners and residents in more affluent areas.

This isn't just happening in San Diego. The same tensions have been playing out in rapidly gentrifying areas like Los Angeles' Boyle Heights neighborhood, Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood, New York's Queens borough and East Austin, Texas.

In all of these places, because "ethnic," "authentic" and "exotic" foods are seen as cultural assets, they've become magnets for development.

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

A call for food justice

Cities and neighborhoods have long sought to attract educated and affluent residents – people whom sociologist Richard Florida dubbed "the creative class." The thinking goes that these newcomers will spend their dollars and presumably contribute to economic growth and job creation.

Food, it seems, has become the perfect lure.

It's uncontroversial and has broad appeal. It taps into the American Dream and appeals to the multicultural values of many educated, wealthy foodies. Small food businesses, with their relatively low cost of entry, have been a cornerstone of ethnic entrepreneurship in American cities. And initiatives like farmers markets and street fairs don't require much in the way of public investment; instead, they rely on entrepreneurs and community-based organizations to do the heavy lifting.

In City Heights, the Community Development Corporation hosted its first annual City Heights Street Food Festival in 2019 to "get people together around table and food stalls to celebrate another year of community building." Other recent events have included African Restaurant Week, Dia de Los Muertos, New Year Lunar Festival, Soul Food Fest and Brazilian Carnival, all of which rely on food and drink to attract visitors and support local businesses.

Meanwhile, initiatives such as the New Roots Community Farm and the City Heights Farmers' Market have been launched by nonprofits with philanthropic support in the name of "food justice," with the goal of reducing racial disparities in access to healthy food and empowering residents – projects that are particularly appealing to highly educated people who value diversity and democracy.

Upending an existing foodscape

In media coverage of changing foodscapes in low-income neighborhoods like City Heights, you'll rarely find any complaints.

San Diego Magazine's neighborhood guide for City Heights, for example, emphasizes its "claim to authentic international eats, along with live music venues, craft beer, coffee, and outdoor fun." It recommends several ethnic restaurants and warns readers not to be fooled by appearances.

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against the "urban food machine"

But that doesn't mean objections don't exist.

Many longtime residents and small-business owners – mostly people of color and immigrants – have, for decades, lived, worked and struggled to feed their families in these neighborhoods. To do so, they've run convenience stores, opened ethnic restaurants, sold food in parks and alleys and created spaces to grow their own food.

All represent strategies to meet community needs in a place mostly ignored by mainstream retailers.

So what happens when new competitors come to town?

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

Starting at a disadvantage

As I document in my book, these ethnic food businesses, because of a lack of financial and technical support, often struggle to compete with new enterprises that feature fresh façades, celebrity chefs, flashy marketing, bogus claims of authenticity and disproportionate media attention. Furthermore, following the arrival of more-affluent residents, existing ones find it increasingly difficult to stay.

My analysis of real estate ads for properties listed in City Heights and other gentrifying San Diego neighborhoods found that access to restaurants, cafés, farmers markets and outdoor dining is a common selling point. The listings I studied from 2019 often enticed potential buyers with lines like "shop at the local farmers' market," "join food truck festivals" and "participate in community food drives!"

San Diego Magazine's home buyer guide for the same year identified City Heights as an "up-and-coming neighborhood," attributing its appeal to its diverse population and eclectic "culinary landscape," including several restaurants and Fair@44.

When I see that City Heights' home prices rose 58% over the past three years, I'm not surprised.

Going up against the urban food machine

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against what I call the "urban food machine," a play on sociologist Harvey Molotch's "urban growth machine" – a term he coined more than 50 years ago to explain how cities were being shaped by a loose coalition of powerful elites who sought to profit off urban growth.

I argue that investors and developers use food as a tool for achieving the same ends.

When their work is done, what's left is a rather insipid and tasteless neighborhood, where foodscapes become more of a marketable mishmash of cultures than an ethnic enclave that's evolved organically to meet the needs of residents. The distinctions of time and place start to blur: An "ethnic food district" in San Diego looks no different than one in Chicago or Austin.

Meanwhile, the routines and rhythms of everyday life have changed so much that longtime residents no longer feel like they belong. Their stories and culture reduced to a selling point, they're forced to either recede to the shadows or leave altogether.

It's hard to see how that's a form of inclusion or empowerment.The Conversation


Pascale Joassart-Marcelli is a Professor of Geography and Director, Urban Studies and Food Studies Programs at San Diego State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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