PARIS — When she announced it to her parents, her heart was beating fast. Both mother and father tried to hide their disapproval, which gave way to worry and even feelings of guilt. What had they done wrong in raising her? Of course, they would still love her, and anyway they could probably count on this whim and phase ending at some point.
Ophélie Véron, now 29, remembers her "dietary coming out" as an earthquake for her French family.
Back when she was a 22-year-old student in political geography, this pretty dark-haired young woman with freckles announced she was a vegetarian. At 25, she became vegan, thus excluding any animal products from her lifestyle (food, clothes, cosmetics, …). It was a "very very difficult" position to defend, especially when your parents put so much love into traditional and local food.
"They just couldn’t understand it. It’s as if I had a mental illness!," Ophélie explains.
Her mother tries to underplay the family's reaction: "It wasn’t as if she’d joined ISIS or something," she quips. "But it was very strange, it cut her away from the others’ food, and so from us."
A 2012 Terra eco-OpinionWay study showed that about 3% of France's population had decided to give up on meat, fish and sometimes even milk and eggs. Since then, there have been many signs that the trend has accelerated, especially among young women. Business is booming for publishers with vegetarian and vegan cooking books, while trendy bloggers (including Ophélie, a.k.a. "Antigone XXI") concoct vegan dishes for their 20,000 regular readers. Vegetarian restaurants are mushrooming. Even major supermarket chains are starting to produce their own brand of vegetarian and vegan products.
"The trend has clearly gained pace in the last four or five years, especially among educated young urban people," says Elodie Vieille-Blanchard, a young math teacher and president of the Vegetarian Association of France. "We had 500 members in 2007, we now have 4,000." Among their 70,000 Facebook fans, Vieille-Blanchard says three out of four are women, and half of them are between 18 and 34 years old. On university campuses, some 10% of the students claim to be vegetarian or vegan. That’s 3% more than three years ago.
Beyond animal rights and a desire to eat healthy, a broader impulse seems to drive the rise in veggie-only citizens. "Young people no longer believe in traditional politics," says Cécile Van de Velde, a professor of sociology at Paris’ School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences. "Since they believe that they can’t influence society as a whole, they change their own daily lives though local engagement and consumption, which becomes a lever for political action."
A pro-vegan demonstration in Melbourne, Australia — Photo: Takver
Inside families, the "conversion" to the vegetal cult doesn’t always happen in harmony. The memory of that fateful moment is still fresh in everybody’s minds. "It was on my 17th birthday," says one, "April 5, 2014," says another, "While I was Christmas shopping with my mom," or "My New Year's resolution in ...," recall several. Reactions are not necessarily enthusiastic in the land of gastronomy — what about the sacrosanct family meal, Sunday’s roast leg of lamb?
Camille and Cécile, twins who became vegetarian when they turned 18, still remember their mother’s panic when they told her that they’d become vegetarians. "What are you going to eat then? You’re making our lives so difficult!" The two decided to help other young people in their dietary transition and created an online forum for vegan living.
"You’re being manipulated," was how the parents of 17-year-old Alexandre Rozenblum responded at first. Then came the coup de grâce, "It's just teenage angst!"
For 16-year-old Mary’s parents, the shock is still raw. "We couldn’t understand it," says her mother. "She used to love her meat rare."
There’s also some fear that such eating habits might lead to dietary deficiencies. And there’s only one thing the youths can do to alleviate those worries: promise they’ll go see a nutritionist and do regular blood tests.
But deep down inside, carnivorous parents never cease to hope it’s just a fad. Some even try the bacon-in-the-vegetable-quiche technique. Or all sorts of fish, before they finally admit the unthinkable: Even fish is banned.
As it becomes clear that the hoped-for fad is instead taking root, each meal becomes a war of attrition, with the never-ending barrage of wisecracks as weapons.
*What about when the carrots scream as they are pulled from the earth? Can't you hear that? (The father)
*Just because you’ve stopped eating meat doesn’t mean we’ll stop killing animals. (The older brother)
*You’ve clearly never known what it’s like to go hungry. (The grandfather)
*How will you feed your baby? (The grandmother)
*Will you serve bark at your wedding? (Uncles and aunts)
It goes on until it reaches the point of open conflict. "My parents love meat, they wouldn’t let go," remembers 24-year-old Margaux.
Valérie ended up playing the peacemaker between a "very angry" son and a "provocative" daughter. "She would tell him, as he was eating a steak, "You’re eating a dead animal," and they would argue …"
When parents come to terms with their child's choice, there’s still the issue with friends. It’s exhausting to always have to justify yourself, or to bring your strange sort of chocolate cake, without eggs or milk, to a dinner party.
Maëlle, 17, feels like a "burden" when going out with friends. "I don’t live in a big city, there’s no vegetarian restaurants. It’s always a hassle to choose where we’re going to eat."
If vegans like Maëlle are often seen as extremists, vegetarians are more and more common. For young people, to stop eating meat entirely can originate from a family environment where both parents practice "flexitarianism" (eating meat only sporadically). For Sophie, the fact that her 18-year-old daughter Lucie is a vegetarian is "the most advanced expression of the family’s stance," as they’ve almost entirely given up on red meat.
After his early teenage years spent eating kebabs, Nicolas Celnik — a high school senior whose mother is a vegetarian, whose father is not far from being one and whose sister is a vegan activist — joined the movement last year after he found out how cattle are raised and slaughtered. But there are side benefits beyond the ethics, he says: "There’s nothing quite like being a vegetarian to pick up girls."
Welcome to Friday, where Joe Biden vows to protect Taiwan from China, Alec Baldwin accidentally kills a cinematographer, and can you guess what day it is TODAY? We also have a report from a researcher in San Diego, USA on the sociological dark side of food trucks.
[*Zdravo - Macedonian]
Iran-Saudi Arabia rivalry may be set to ease, or get much worse
The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before, writes Persian-language media Kayhan-London:
The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.
Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.
Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.
Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.
He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."
The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.
Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.
Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."
The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."
Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."
Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.
Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.
Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.
For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.
🌎 7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW
• Biden vows to defend Taiwan: U.S. President Joe Biden said the United States would come to Taiwan's defense if it were attacked and had a commitment to defend the island nation that China claims as its own. The White House clarified for the second time in three months that U.S. policy on the subject has not changed, and declined further comment when asked if Biden had misspoken.
• Call on China to respect Uyghurs: A statement from 43 countries denounced China's human rights record at the United Nations over the reported torture and repression of the mostly Muslim Uyghurs, as well as the existence of "re-education camps" in Xinjiang. The declaration calls on Beijing to allow independent observers immediate access. In response, Cuba issued a rival statement shortly afterwards on behalf of 62 other countries claiming "disinformation".
• Alec Baldwin fires prop gun, kills cinematographer: U.S. actor Alec Baldwin fatally shot cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and injured director Joel Souza after discharging a prop gun on the set of his new movie, near Santa Fe. The accident is being investigated.
• Berlusconi acquitted: Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was acquitted of judicial corruption charges. The 85-year-old media mogul had been accused of seeking to bribe guests present at his infamous "Bunga Bunga" parties to lie about the evenings as part of an underage prostitution case.
• COVID health workers death toll: A new WHO working report estimates that between 80,000 and 180,000 health and care workers may have died from COVID-19 between January 2020 and May 2021. The same report also noted that fewer than 1 in 10 healthcare workers were fully vaccinated in Africa, compared with 9 in 10 in high-income countries, and less than 5% of Africa's population have been vaccinated.
• Seven killed in Russian gunpowder factory blast: An explosion at the Elastik gunpowder and chemicals plant southeast of Moscow killed at least seven people, while nine are still missing.
• Aye aye, CAP'n: HAPPY CAPS LOCK DAY, FOLKS!
🗞️ FRONT PAGE
Dutch daily De Volkskrant pays tribute to "sound master" and renowned classical conductor Bernard Haitink, who died at 92. Born in Amsterdam, Haitink made more than 450 records and led some of the world's top orchestras in the span of his 65-year career.
📰 STORY OF THE DAY
The food truck, a sign that the white and wealthy are moving in
In San Diego, California, researcher Pascale Joassart-Marcelli 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. In The Conversation she writes:
🥡 In 2016 in City Heights, a large multi-ethnic San Diego neighborhood, 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). 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.
🤑 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.
🏙️ 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. 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.
➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com
#️⃣ BY THE NUMBERS
The remains of "Big John," the world's largest triceratops skeleton ever found, were sold at auction for a European record price of 6.65 millions euros in Paris to a private anonymous collector from the U.S. The 200 pieces of the skeleton were unearthed in 2014 in South Dakota and reassembled by specialists in Italy.
👮🎮 IN OTHER NEWS
Police bust Mexican drug gang recruiting boys via online video games
Police in Mexico have intervened to rescue three minors, aged 11 to 14, from recruitment into a drug gang that had enticed them through online gaming.
A top Mexican police agency official Ricardo Mejía Berdeja, said the gang had contacted the youths in the south-central city of Oaxaca, chatting through a free-to-download game called Free Fire, which involves shooting at rivals with virtual firearms.
Calling himself "Rafael," another player of the same age, the suspected gang member offered one of the youths work "checking radio frequencies and watching out for police presence" in Monterrey, northern Mexico, reported national daily El Heraldo de México. The pay was unusually good — 8,000 pesos (almost $400) every two weeks — and the youth called two friends who also wanted to get in.
The three boys were set to take the bait, but an anonymous Mexican intelligence agent following the exchange while also posing as youth playing Free Fire, ultimately led police to a safe house in Santa Lucía del Camino, outside Oaxaca.
➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com
"I just want to make China understand that we are not going to step back."
— U.S. President Joe Biden vowed to defend Taiwan if it came under attack from China, an assertion that seems to move away from the U.S. stated policy of "strategic ambiguity." His administration is now facing calls to clarify this stance on the island.
📸 PHOTO DU JOUR
Paramilitary soldiers are conducting a check operation in Indian-administered Kashmir, following a spate of targeted attacks on the region's Hindu minority that have left at least 33 dead since early October. The region, claimed in full by both India and Pakistan, has been the site of a bloody armed rebellion against India since the 1990s — Photo: Adil Abbas/ZUMA
✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger
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