“No one can bring together a country that has 365 kinds of cheese” Charles de Gaulle. Anthropologists study food eating rituals as one means of understanding a culture. The cultural meaning of one particular food, cheese, in one particular country, France. Cheese serves as an appropriate metaphor for French culture. Not only do the French consume many different varieties of cheese, they consume it in larger quantities than any other society.
When the European Commission proposed restrictions on bacteria levels in cheese and other dairy products, “the French rose up to a man to defend their traditional raw-milk cheeses from the supposed threat from those ever-interfering Eurocrats in Brussels” More specifically, they failed to note the strong emotional and historical tie the French feel with the land and its products. They asked, “Are we to be condemned to eat standardized, aseptic, industrialized cheeses?”
The uproar by the French over outsiders governing their beloved food has only weak parallels in the U.S. For example, when Coca-Cola introduced “new” Coke, a group calling themselves “Old Cola Drinkers of America” formed and protested that the company had violated a trust by “smoothing” the product out, ostensibly to gain wider product appeal among younger market segments. But this protest was notable only because Americans so rarely consider their highly processed diet at all. While these and other protests about food controls are real, they lack the raw-nerve quality that characterizes the French relationship with its cheeses.
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