Wednesday 25 June 2008

Food and civilisation

Yesterday I ate too much, I drank too much, it was a day of excesses and I never had so much fun all by myself. I noticed something about the 24 of June posts: even though it was my national day, I talked about food (and half the time in English). It was either that or music. So it made me reflect on the relation between national identity and food and the re. What I miss most about Québec is the food, the heavy stuff that got us through our many cold winters. Traditional food in my country is heavy, inspired by British and Irish gastronomy rather than French one. Our pâté chinois, which has nothing of Chinese, is closer to a shepperd's pie (its name is a mistranslation of said pie) than a hachis parmentier. British food got an unfair reputation: it is supposed to be bland at best, disgusting at worst (and speaking from experience, it is difficult to convince people that you can eat well in England), while the French are praised to have a great, varied national gastronomy. I think said reputations reside in the attitude of each people towards eating. The French take it as a pleasure, while the Brits often consider it a purely functional act ("it's only food" my wife often says, which when I was a child is what my babysitters used to say to force me to eat something I hated, incidentally). I think French cuisine certainly looks more appealing, probably is more varied (but then again, maybe it is an idée reçue with no ground in relity), they managed to sell their brand better. I think we adopted the food of the Brits because it was more suitable for a life under the very harsh Québec weather. We rediscovered our French roots relatively late, and while it is all very good I think our country is naturally more suited for a British type of cuisine.

Anyway, all this to say that I think we can discover a lot about a culture though its gastronomy and that we make an instinctive association between food and identity.


PJ said...

La bouffe francaise est probablement plus variee que celle d'Angleterre a cause de la plus grande geographie et variete de climat. L'Angleterre est une ile relativement uniforme, cote relief et temperature, alors que la France va de la Manche a la Mediterannee, des Alpes a l'Atlantique. L'Angleterre est n'a de voisins immediats que l'Ecosse et le Pays de Galles, la France est a cote de l'Espagne, l'Italie, l'Allemagne, la Belgique, la Suisse. Tout ca fait que les Bretons ne mangent pas la meme chose que les Toulousains, les Alsaciens ou les Bordelais.

holly wynne said...

Cool. I don't have a lot to say about British food, as I've only been there once and it was okay, and I've never been to France. I do, however, like your connection of food to culture. I come from the American South, where food is inextricably linked to every facet of life--including death.

I hope you had a good national day. Thanks for your comment on my post of last night--I didn't know that about the whole romantic/patriotic thing.

Guillaume said...

PJ-Oui, je crois que c'est un peu ça aussi. Les Anglais sont insulaires et leur nourriture est donc relativement homogène. La variété est venue avec leurs colonies.
Holly-I had wanted to write a cultural/gastronomical entry for ages, this one is a bit underdeveloped. I had a good national day (as far as having it in another country). My comment on the 24 was refering to the "early" nature of the St-Jean-Baptiste, which is a solstice celebration, therefore a night of excesses, an aspect which sometimes still exists today (a few years ago, some people in Quebec threw themselves in bonfires). But usually people just get drunk. Anyway, the day was originally pagan, then it got Christianised, then we nationalised it, so to speak. And yet all that remains for many Quebeckers is a night of drinking excesses. I do think however that such behavior is triggered by the season/primitive atmosphere.