18 November 2010

Preserving French cuisine

UNESCO maintains a World Heritage List, which is well known. The 911 sites include those that are natural, like the Great Barrier Reef or cultural, like the Sydney Opera House. Inclusion of a site on the list means worldwide recognition of the importance of the site and the need to preserve and protect it for humanity.

Less well known is UNESCO's List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding. Items are those cultural practices and expressions of intangible heritage that are deemed worthy of protection and preservation. Intangible items include human expressions such as song, dance and rituals.

Recently, UNESCO, meeting in Kenya, added the gastronomic meal of the French to the list
The gastronomic meal of the French is a customary social practice for celebrating important moments in the lives of individuals and groups, such as births, weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, achievements and reunions. It is a festive meal bringing people together for an occasion to enjoy the art of good eating and drinking. The gastronomic meal emphasizes togetherness, the pleasure of taste, and the balance between human beings and the products of nature. Important elements include the careful selection of dishes from a constantly growing repertoire of recipes; the purchase of good, preferably local products whose flavours go well together; the pairing of food with wine; the setting of a beautiful table; and specific actions during consumption, such as smelling and tasting items at the table. The gastronomic meal should respect a fixed structure, commencing with an apéritif (drinks before the meal) and ending with liqueurs, containing in between at least four successive courses, namely a starter, fish and/or meat with vegetables, cheese and dessert. Individuals called gastronomes who possess deep knowledge of the tradition and preserve its memory watch over the living practice of the rites, thus contributing to their oral and/or written transmission, in particular to younger generations. The gastronomic meal draws circles of family and friends closer together and, more generally, strengthens social ties.
Reported by AFP via France24
The country's ambassador to UNESCO Catherine Colonna hailed the inclusion, saying it "makes a contribution to cultural diversity".

"The French love getting together to eat and drink well and enjoy good times in such a manner. It is part of our tradition -- a quite active tradition," she added.

How wines are paired with dishes, how the table is dressed, the precise placing of glasses, for water, red and white wine, knife blade pointing in and fork tines down, are all seen as part of the rite.

Francis Chevrier, chief delegate of the French mission in charge of submitting the UNESCO bid, also welcomed the decision.

"It's very important that people realise, in villages in Africa and everywhere, that when you have knowledge of food it is a treasure for your community, and something worth cherishing," he said.

"It's wonderful. This is excellent news for French culture, for French heritage, to invite our cuisine, our gastronomic heritage to sit at the high table of culture at UNESCO."
See also a debate on France24 with commentators trying to define what is means including why French food is more special than many others (and in French). Unwieldily, the list is of the meal but not the cuisine.

Other 'cuisines' included in the list are Mexican and the Mediterranean diet.

Including 'cuisines' that are not endangered seems a little strange. Surely there are many more cuisines and gastronomic traditions throughout the world that are equally worthy of 'preservation'.

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