“The times they are a-changin’” sang a nasally hippy once. Presumably things are always in some state of flux, and sometimes you notice them more often than others. The other day, I told one of the children I tutor that the world moves faster now in a month than it did during the whole of the 14th century, which either blew his mind or he fazed out, it’s difficult to tell which. “Stuff is changing” obviously isn’t very scientific, but the signs are all around us. Brangelina is no more, Nigel Farage has left UKIP (hopefully for good this time), Bowie, Prince and Lemmy are all dead, our landlady wants us to move out (perhaps I’ll expound upon this in a future blog), and France is thinking about going vegetarian.
You heard. Yesterday I was at the gym attempting to watch the French news while I pedaled like Rumplestiltskin ON CRACK. I was taken by surprise, as the headline news contained animals and compassion and French people all in the same story. A parliamentary inquiry has recommended a number of steps to make abattoirs less disgusting, after some were clandestinely filmed recently, uncovering all too predictable and heinous abuses of livestock by the scum of the earth. One of the committee’s recommendations was to install video cameras in France’s 941 slaughterhouses, to throw light on shady practices that go unnoticed.
If that wasn’t great enough news in itself, today I opened Libération, one of France’s mainstream (if admittedly left-leaning) newspapers, to discover a 4-page lead feature promoting vegetarian alternatives to meat in the light of such horrors. This may not seem like a biggie, but this is France we’re talking about. I was of the assumption that French people didn’t eat anything that hadn’t suffered first, but evidently people here are genuinely concerned about this issue.
I have a feeling that if the Hexagon – not famed for les droits des animaux – gets serious about this, then others will follow. Indeed, methods employed by 99% of the industry to ensure cheap meat is ever present in supermarkets, should shame us all if we’re not psychopaths. Even the French. There’s no better example of capitalism causing untold suffering in the pursuit of profits. Factory farming is indefensible, which is why there’s so much secrecy involved. As for a nation where the motto is liberté, égalité, fraternité, and one that prides itself in leading the way where civil rights of the human variety are concerned, France actually errs towards conformism too often, as recently demonstrated by the Burkini ban (in certain areas, rather than nationally, like some understood it). Gastronomy certainly limits itself by its own recherche foodie regulations, and woe betide anyone who veers from the accepted norm. Restaurants are getting better, but there are still plenty of places in cosmopolitan Paris where you’ll not find anything vegetarian on the menu, and you’ll also struggle if you have celiac disease or have any other dietary requirements. Go out to the country and you may as well prepare to starve. Apparently these aberrant preferences don’t fit with France’s incomprehensible philosophy of food (incomprehensible if you’re not French anyway), and I will say that while I adore living here and would prefer it to England any day of the week (except Sunday, everything’s shut), deviances of whim are barely tolerated.
As for not putting vegetarian options on the menu, there are at least 375 million veggies in the world, and 84.7 million tourists visited France in 2013, making it the most popular tourist destination on earth. If there are 7.12500 billion people in the world (2013 figures again), then of the 84.7 million visitors, I make that around 4 and a half million of them that are probably vegetarians. So give the poor fuckers something to eat when they get here, eh? Who knows, France might be a bit stuck in its ways where gastronomie is concerned, but maybe it can lead the way in sorting out these vile knackeries. The way we treat our creatures is a stain on our humanity, and history will judge us to be the savages that we are. The times they might be a-changin’, but in this instance, change can’t come quickly enough.Follow @jeres