food / travel

In France, Bucolic Bakers Cook Up Real Country Bread

Believe it or not, good bread can sometimes be hard to find in the French countryside. Some farmers are rising to the occasion, swapping their work gloves for baker’s mitts and offering customers some genuine country cooking.

French bakers are known for their bread making skills
French bakers are known for their bread making skills
Olivier Razemon

CAYRIECH/LOMBERS – The countryside is aglow after July's heavy rain. Farmers have just completed the harvest, and the promising golden wheat ears will soon be turned into flour – and then into crunchy bread. Only the bread isn't likely to be made – or even available – just here. In many of France's rural areas, wheat fields abound. But it is not uncommon for residents to drive 25 kilometers or more to buy decent bread.

The exception to the rule are the baguettes and round breads produced by farmer-bakers, who number about 500 nationwide and use a portion of their own wheat supply to bake and sell directly to customers. Regulations allow the farmer-bakers – most of whom got their start in the early 1990s – to use about 30 tons of flour per year. As everything is organic these days, most of them abide by organic farming rules and refuse to use synthetic products in their crops.

The phenomenon remains small. But according to Patrick de Kochko, coordinator of a group called the Farming Seeds Network, it "has aroused an interest among young farmers who, because of a shortage of land, are looking for new ways to develop their soils by controlling the whole production chain." The Farming Seeds Network promotes biodiversity in farming.

Hervé Cournède is one of those 500 farmer-bakers. His farm, near the small village of Cayriech in the Tarn-et-Garonne region, is not easy to find. Nevertheless, area residents and even some summer tourists venture there to buy bread. The farmer dedicates 15 of his 47 acres to wheat. He bought and set up the necessary tools for bread-making in a facility adjoining the main building of his farm. Besides the kneading machine and the wood stove, Cournède also has a machine that makes pasta.

Depending on the season, Cournède, who describes himself as a "farmer-miller-baker-pasta maker," also sells einkorn, sunflower oil, asparagus, melons and home-made ratatouille. "Before I settled down, I spent three weeks in the United States with Wisconsin farmers who used to sell milk and ice cream to their clients. It got me thinking," he says.

The farmer doesn't sell his products only to customers who visit the farm. He also travels every week to the cities of Toulouse and Montauban, where he operates market stands. Cournède even sells some of his products online, via a website called Grainesdeterroir.com, which features products from about 20 of the area's organic farmers.

In the neighboring region of Tarn, in the city of Lombers, Jean-Francois Roques, a farmer-baker since 1992, introduces himself as a "pioneer." His office, set up on the ground floor of a modern flour mill, looks exactly like the office of any other CEO – except for the notable farm odours and the flies that sometimes buzz around his computer screen.

Roques uses his 40 acres of land to grow cereals, sunflowers, or as pastureland to feed his cattle. He often says he "breeds cows to make bread," noting how he uses their manure to fertilize his fields. Each week, the farmer makes his own bread, which he sells on Tuesday and Saturday morning in the Albi market, in the shade of the gorgeous cathedral made of pinkish bricks. Most of his customers are individual marketgoers, but he also sells to some restaurants, including a crêperie, which buys whole sacks of his flour.

Just like his colleague from Cayriech, Jean-Francois Roques prefers to use a stone grinding process. "The wheatberry doesn't burst, but rather unravels and thus maintains its excellent health properties," he says.

Farm bread tends to be more attractive than the precooked baguettes sold in supermarkets. But it is often denser and darker than the bread produced in normal neighborhood bakeries. After tasting some bread produced by a local farmer, one tourist sums up the difference quite nicely: "Baker and farmer are two completely different jobs."

Read the original article in French

Photo - jean-lous zimmermann

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Society

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

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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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