On my first full day in Toulouse, I went grocery shopping. It was a normal activity that surprisingly left me with a better appreciation for French culture. The produce section was the same and while the snack brands were different, the food was what I knew- potato chips and chocolate bars that lined the walls. The differences that struck the most to me were the foods I had spent the most time studying and loving.
Eggs reflected attitudes towards cleanliness and disease prevention. They were sold, of course, but were not refrigerated, something I was raised to perceive as unsafe. American eggs are required to be thoroughly washed and the protective film removed before being sold in order to prevent salmonella contamination from outside the egg. This film removal requires the egg to be refrigerated.As I soon learned, European egg production targets the hen as the source of salmonella infection and requires vaccination in laying hens. Because the film is not removed, eggs are not refrigerated.
Another difference in food culture in France when compared to the States is the battle between ethical and traditional food systems. Free range chickens that are allowed the ability to roam unfenced are commercially seen as more desirable in France than closed chicken houses that are preferred in American markets. This attitude toward the welfare of the bird stops when the production of certain duck products requires a form of feeding where a tube in inserted down the throat into the crop of the bird and the animal is force fed up to two pounds of food a day. Many Americans perceive this treatment as unethical and California has even banned the practice. In France however, the practice is protected as cultural heritage due to the country’s long roots of using gavage in duck and geese production.
By being given the opportunity to interpret French culture in terms of food production, I was able to perceive the country on terms I already understood. While I was able to interact with French society through what I ate, my other friends were able to learn and relate to other aspects on the trip such as wine or cloth production. And I think that’s what made this trip so important- it gave many different people a large variety of tools to understand a culture that was different than their own.