food / travel

In France, meat eaters strike back

Confronted to rising criticism of the shoddy practices and environmental damage of the meat industry, beef lovers are organizing themselves to defend their beliefs.

In France, meat eaters strike back
Elodie Lepage

PARIS - "I love bidoche!" is a slogan -- using a slang term for meat -- that can be an invitation to pleasure, or a cheeky provocation to radical vegetarians. It is also the name of a new pro-meat movement launched last week at the Maison de l'Aubrac, one of the beef-dedicated temples of the French capital.

The movement's instigator is Yves-Marie Le Bourdonnec, a rising star among butchers. The fierce attacks to which carnivores worldwide have been subjected recently have become unbearable, says this 43-year-old French culinary artisan.

"Enough is enough," Le Bourdonnec exclaims in his little butcher shop in the Asnières suburb of Paris. "Being against beef-eating in France doesn't make any sense. Being against pork or poultry, that's ok, because these animals are raised on an industrial scale in absolutely appalling conditions. But beef is a different story."

Le Bourdonnec says France has none of the intensive beef farms that Jonathan Safran Foer describes in his 2009 bestseller ‘Eating Animals'. "This kind of breeding can only be used for fast growing cows, which our cows are not. So the issues Safran Foer speaks about are specific to the Unites States, not France."

In his book, the young American writer describes in crude detail the feed lots where animals are fattened with the help of antibiotics. In France, the book has helped the cause of vegetarians and animal rights activists. It is more and more common to see dinner guests unapologetically refusing to touch their host's roast beef. Even the once proudest carnivores are now starting to feel guilty in front of their steak. In "Confessions of a Meat Eater" French jurist and author Marcela Iacub makes a public apology for her past carnivorous habits.

Should all meat-eaters feel ashamed? "Definitely not!" says anthropologist Genevière Cazes-Valette. The whole controversy surrounding meat "is a lot ofnoise that has nothing to do with the attitude French people actually have towards meat. Figures show that the French still gobble up large quantities of meat: only 1.2 to 1.3% of the population are vegetarians. And our country has the highest meat consumption rate in Europe," she says.

But the truth is that meat consumption has been steadily dropping over the years. According to the French Meat Information Center, the figure has dropped from 52 to 46 grams a day per person, in the period between 2004 and 2007, or three to four portions each week. "Those who are against eating meat are today's puritans," says philosopher Dominique Lestel, author of an essay called "In Defense of the Carnivore." "They represent a percentage of individuals that, in any kind of society, feel invested with the mission to have an ethical discourse. They might as well build their stance over sex, but the meat issue is today seen as less conservative, less out-moded."

Maryline Patou-Mathis from the National Centre for Scientific Research finds the no-meat stance particularly annoying: "We are not elves, for Heaven's sake!" she says. "People who refuse to eat meat are simply denying their animal side. They are forgetting that humans are omnivorous and that our metabolism is perfectly fit to assimilate meat."

But if meat eaters are less and less willing to put up with criticism, they are also showing a certain amount of support to their adversaries' claims. "Vegetarians do raise up two very real questions, about the damage done to the environment and industrial stockbreeding," Dominique Lestel admits.

Yves-Marie Le Bourdonnec, the Parisian butcher, agrees: "Junk meat versus ethical meat, that is the real issue!" This Don Quixote of meat says that his "I love meat" operation is aimed at convincing stockbreeders to feed their animals on grass, and butchers to buy only these products, despite the higher costs.

Le Bourdonnec's ideal model? It surprisingly comes from the United States, where the neo butchers have gone back to ancient methods. Close to the locavore and Slow Food movements, and obsessed about ethical, good food, these young butchers have simply sent their cows back to the prairies. Their animals are happily grazing the grass in Maine. And consumers can already taste their delicious meat.

In France, certain breeders such as Christian Valette are also pampering their animals. His 120 Aubrac cows are raised on hay and press cakes based on linseed, rich in omega-3. The luckiest can even unwind during sessions of Thalasso therapy, with lots of spraying and brushing. But make no mistake, the goal is still to make them into tastier meat!

Photo - Ph. Grillot

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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