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Letter from France: A time voyage back to the Prairies of my childhoold

June 20th, 2009 · 7 Comments

It hit me while I was listening to the radio, driving along through the endless fields, how much France is still farm country — a place that resembles, in some ways, the Saskatchewan farm country southeast of Regina that we used to drive through to visit my grandmother in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

I had the radio tuned to a local station and the host was taking calls from people phoning in to sell things. One man was selling a betonniere (had to look that up later — a cement mixer). Another woman seemed to be selling her entire dining room and kitchen, from table and chairs to washer and dryer.

I haven’t heard those kinds of on-air for-sale ads for a long time — maybe on a road trip through Montana 20 years ago — but they had them on all morning, in between syrupy French songs. They fit with the countryside, where you realize after a few hours of driving why France has a culture that’s so fixated on food. It’s because it’s such rich growing country, a place where vines and wheat and corn seem to grow like Jack’s beanstalk.

In spite of the dominance of their Carrefour and Intermarche chains — supermarket/everything chains that make Wal-Mart look like the friendly neighbourhood corner store — the attachment to farm life and farm produce still hangs on here.

We went into the market in Pezenas this morning, where crowds of people were stuffing their cloth shopping bags with lettuce, those incredible sweet green onions they have here, zucchini, eggplant, goat cheese, olives, fish, and much much more.

And whenever we go for walks in the smaller towns, we see that back yards densely planted with vegetables or small, fruit-bearing trees.

I was on a radio program last month where one of my fellow panelists dismissed community gardens as a pleasant hobby that had no real impact on the global food production and distribution system. At the time, I didn’t challenge his opinion.

But when I’m here, looking at the attachment people have to the land, to their gardens, to food that is connected to where they live, it makes it seem possible that we don’t have to give in completely to a world of plastic tomatoes shipped in from Mexico or pallid pieces of chicken that have come from Unknown Factory #453.

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