by Odna Brinsly
What comes to mind when you hear the words French cuisine mentioned? Is it escargot, French toast, or a carefully planned meal consisting of a multiple array of dishes? Whichever of these it may be, it has become prominent enough to be named a world treasure. The French art of eating is important enough to occupy a unique position in world history. In November 2010, the French meal was deemed worthy to receive recognition and be placed among UNESCO’s prestigious list of world intangible cultural treasures. The “gastronomic meal of the French” as it was called, was observed by UNESCO to represent the cultural values and traditions of the French worthy of preservation. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is an organization that works to create conditions for dialogue among civilizations, cultures, and peoples, based upon respect for commonly shared values. UNESCO officials said French cuisine deserved this honor because it symbolized “a social custom aimed at celebrating the most important moments in the lives of individuals and groups.”
I was not too surprised at UNESCO’s decision if you would stop and consider the composition of a traditional French meal, it could consist of about nine courses, more or less, depending on the occasion. These courses could include le apero or aperitif, hors d’oeuvres, entrée, plat principal, salad, fromage, dessert, café, and digestif. You can see why some people grumble that the French spend too long at the table. However, it is also evident why UNESCO gave the French meal this honor. One must consider the other details that go into the preparation of a French meal: the way the table is set, the matching of wines with food and the quality family time spent at the table together. To me, this is worthy of emulation and preservation.
UNESCO’s decision to honor the French meal received extensive international media coverage with articles appearing in New York Times, BBC News, TIME, to name but a few . Though it was suggested that the media gave the story a scientific slant, france24online news site quoted Patrick Rambourg, who is the author of History of French Gastronomy and Cuisine, saying that “the media cut out the details by talking only about gastronomy.”
There is much more to the recognition of French meals than just plain old gastronomy. The meals represent French culture and belief in family values. These meals are planned for when many family members can participate. French meals are a good reflection of French values and heritage. This is rare to observe in other parts of the world where not much attention is paid to detail in the meal setting, assembly, the meal itself, and dinner conversation. Too often we look for means to quicken the dinner process either through the use of technology or skipping the meal altogether. Who has the time to sit and talk for that length of meal, I’ve got things to take care of.
Though this French culture may be gradually fading, losing its prominence in contemporary French society, it is still a remarkable part of French culture that is worth preserving for posterity. I agree with UNESCO that “the gastronomic meal of the French” should be featured on the UNESCO’s list of world’s intangible cultural treasures.