PARIS — The hour is nigh. On Sunday, French voters, as well as abstainers, (expected to rise in numbers since the first-round ballot on April 23) will decide who, between Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen, will lead the country for the next five years. One way or another, their choice and its consequences will ripple well beyond the borders of France.
The debate between the remaining two candidates for the French presidency is usually the culmination of a months-long campaign and the occasion for memorable — and traditionally courteous — verbal jousting. But there was none of that on Wednesday night. Very much like the several weeks of campaign that preceded it, the debate focused more on the pretenders' personae than on their proposals for the country. And the unprecedented level of verbal violence shocked observers not only in France, but around the world.
For The New York Times, Wednesday's debate between Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen "was more like an angry American-style television shoutfest than the reasoned discussion of issues the French have become accustomed to. It was a study in violent verbal combat: The two talked angrily over each other, cut each other off, shook fists and pointed fingers, leaving the moderators bewildered and helpless."
In Portugal, Público compared Wednesday's debate with a "boxing match in which the moderators served as the pads to soften the blows, but couldn't play their role as referees." Italian daily La Repubblica made a similar analogy. Switzerland's Le Temps summed it up best when it described the debate as "the most violent in the history of the Fifth Republic," while the confrontation was front-page news across the globe.
Caijing magazine, China
Since surviving the first round of voting among 11 contenders, both candidates have been eager to point out that Sunday's face-off will provide French voters with a clear choice between two very different projects for the country, and, indeed, for Europe as a whole. Not unlike the Clinton vs. Trump confrontation last year, observers around the globe have pointed out that this electoral battle between Macron and Le Pen is one between two political, economical, social and perhaps even civilizational models that are polar opposites of one another, and between two candidates who bear little, if any, similarities to one another.
Still, the favored Macron knows his biggest risk is that lukewarm supporters might not show up on Sunday. Luxemburg-based news website L'essentiel drew comparisons between the spectre of a low turnout and the mindsets that led to Brexit and the election of Trump.
"Brexit? It will never happen! I'm not going to vote! / President Trump? Impossible! So no need to vote!
Focusing on Macron, a former investment banker at Rothschild, Der Spiegel asked the question: "Once a banker, always a banker?" The German weekly magazine drew parallels between Macron, seen by his critics as a "stooge of the banking sector," and Hillary Clinton, whose failure, wrote Stefan Kaiser and Stefan Simons, was also due to a similar public perception.
"If there is anything that can prevent the election of the political shooting star to the French presidency, it seems to be Macron's image as the candidate of the financial elite," they wrote. The magazine recounted his quick rise to power from entering Rothschild in 2008 to becoming the "Mozart of finance" by advising Nestlé on its $12 billion acquisition of Pfizer's baby food unit in 2012, and from becoming François Hollande's deputy secretary-general at the Elysée Palace after his election in 2012 to being named economy minister two years later. Still, the magazine concluded Macron's program is resolutely pro-business, but he is "no finance capital servant by a long shot."
Meanwhile, in British magazine The Spectator, Scottish commentator Douglas Murray tried to look beyond Marine Le Pen's label and asked the question, "Is Marine Le Pen really far-right?" Lamenting the fact that "such overuse of the term has eroded the boundaries it created," Murray concluded that "it is largely agreed that Marine Le Pen is ‘far-right" because her father is Jean-Marie Le Pen; that his is the tradition she comes from; that her party's roots remain ugly and that she is pretending to be more moderate than she is to get into political office. It will help keep her from the presidency this time." But, he warned, "Europe's cordon sanitaire is straining and at some point may well break."
For Israel's Haaretz, "If Marine Le Pen is elected, no cultured person will have enough tears to mourn France. It won't be just another political victory, but the crowning as president of the heir to the ugliest, most dangerous strain in French history," columnist Sefy Hendler wrote. "True, few people think that if Macron wins on Sunday, it will be ‘the best of times' for France; many view him as the lesser evil, and nothing more. But anyone with eyes in his head understands that if Le Pen pulls out a surprise win, it will usher in ‘the worst of times' for France, Europe and anyone who loves culture and freedom. Because despite everything, to quote Dickens again, his victory would bring ‘the spring of hope," while hers would usher in ‘the winter of despair.""
Haaretz's front page
Diogo Bercito of Brazilian daily Folha de S. Paulo highlighted the role of national identity in the election: "The French are heading to the polls this Sunday in the same state as those who are heading for the psychologist's couch: in an identity crisis. In times of globalization and migration, their choice for their next president is linked to the meaning of their nationality." Macron's France, he wrote, "has euros in its pockets, ... is multicultural and aligned with the U.S." while Le Pen wants "a return of the franc, ... woos native French people and Russia."
Looking for the election's consequences beyond France, Germany's former Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer wrote that Macron must win to avoid "Europe's self-destruction." But beyond a Macron victory on Sunday, he warned that Europe needs him to succeed in power and said that Germany must help him achieve this much needed success to truly defeat the anti-EU side. "He cannot, for Europe's well-understood self-interest, fail," Fischer wrote in a column for the daily Süddeutsche Zeitung. Seeing economic growth as crucial to Macron's success, Fischer called on Germany after the general election in September to "bite the bullet" about government debt, competitiveness and to reach a new consensus with southern Europe. "Or do you want to leave the field to the nationalists and destroyers of the EU?" Fischer asked rhetorically.
Former Charlie Hebdo cartoonist Luz chose a slightly stronger image to depict the lack of enthusiasm for the Macron/Marine alliterative alternative:
Marine ... Macron ... What a sh*t (merde) country
In China, Global Times noted that Le Pen's defeat won't mean she "has worked tirelessly for nothing. Her political career could suffer some frustrations, but the far-right political force has grown during her presidential campaign. If she turns into the "black swan" and defeats Macron, for many Europeans, her victory will toll the bell of the European Union."
Writing in Spanish daily El País, Paris correspondent Marc Bassets described a country with "deep fractures' and divided between "cities and rural areas, interior and coastline, east and west, low and high education level, happy and unhappy." "The opposition is no longer between left and right," he writes, "but between pro-EU and sovereignists, liberals and protectionists, reformists and populists."
"Fractured" was also the headline on a comprehensive study, published in The Economist, that analyzed the country's new geography and the emergence of what French sociologist Christophe Guilluy called in a famous book Peripheral France, "a world where Marine Le Pen's FN is on the rise," the magazine wrote. "History shows that such moments of upheaval can produce startling and creative forces for renewal. But they can also presage a slide into darkness. In Mr Macron's cities, and Ms Le Pen's urban outskirts and rural areas, France is poised to go either way. The choice it makes could scarcely matter more."
*This roundup was produced through Worldcrunch's iQ contributor platform. You too can join here.
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.
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.
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?
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 Perverse Effect Of Street Art On Neighborhood Gentrification ... ›
- Taiwan To Hong Kong To L.A., Birth Of Bubble Tea Culture ... ›
- How The Pandemic Is Helping Reinvent Food Production ... ›
- What's Chic Now In Paris Dining? African-American Soul Food ... ›