Monday, February 18, 2008

Why Are There So Few French Vegetarians?

I recently came across an interesting thread on an international online bulletin board. French omnivores -- and the Francophiles who love them -- were musing over why there seems to be so few French vegetarians. I've often wondered the same so lingered for a few days to see what theories would surface.

One Frenchman wrote about how he was raised with the idea of balance as an ideal to be followed with all aspects of life including food. He wrote, "I think vegetarianism would be seen by many French as an extreme, to be followed only if absolutely medically necessary. We are raised to believe that variety and balance are the healthiest way to go."

Another poster to the thread, an American presumably, wrote that "Anglophone culture" is really unusual in its support of non-mainstream dietary practices when compared with other cultures. He also theorized that this acceptance can perhaps be seen as an after-effect of 19th-century Protestant social reform that opposed animal cruelty. He opined that the French view animals very differently than do Americans. He writes: "The Frenchman (or -woman) has attitudes not dissimilar to that of an agricultural worker. They have grown up seeing the carcasses of whole food animals at the market; it's just another commodity." Or perhaps it's a symptom of the widening distance between Americans and their food source? Put plainly: "The American looks at a dead pig hanging in the window and sees an adorable Disney character brutally slaughtered before its time. The Frenchman sees dinner."

My experience, based on my frequent travels to France, has led me to believe that food is such an integral part of social connection that rejecting a certain type of food could be construed as being unsociable or, Mon Dieu, un-French. What we choose to eat is a way of asserting who we are and the culture -- or subculture -- with which we identify.