Take millennial environmentalism, add national outrage at the contamination of French cuisine by trafficked ingredients and a pinch of disdain for the imperialist attitudes of America and a new French fashion is born. Down on the farm is becoming one of the hippest places to be.
As the ecologically-minded French Green party stated in their European election campaign, green is the color of the 21st century. Leaf green is the color on the catwalks, and gardening is suddenly being described by womens magazines as sexy.
Enter a series of scares over genetically modified Frankenstein foods, Coca-Cola bottling problems, dioxin-laced chicken, mad cows and a dispute over American hormone-fed beef. France, whose heart has always been very close to its stomach, feels besieged by a unilateral homogenisation of cuisine, a global Hollywoodization of the kitchen. And the French are fighting back in the two ways they know best with style and with their stomachs.
Hip magazine Nova recently listed addresses for farmstays and I-D is suddenly into botany. The moustachioed figurehead of the Confédération Paysanne, Jose Bove, made international headlines by leading a protest that ransacked a McDonalds restaurant under construction in southwestern France. On September 13, he was enthroned by Elle magazine as the apostle of the neo-rural trend and the tongue-in-cheek sex symbol of la rentrée. Farms in the Ile-de-France are reporting lines of Parisians queuing out of barn doors for farm-fresh products, to add a zest of folklore to their shopping baskets.
The first step in this evolution was environmental awareness, begun by organic-minded soixante-huitards in the early 60s, who pioneered macrobiotic and vegetarian outlets at a time when being vegetarian was considered almost un-French. Twenty-five years ago, when I said I bake organic bread, explains Basil Kamir, founder of organic bakery Le Moulin de la Vierge, people would run off at lightning speed.
Biologique (organic) sounded too much like chimique (chemical) to some people. They couldnt tell food that was biologique from bio skin cream or biotech. Since the 1980s, organic products have been regulated by the Minister of Agriculture and products containing at least 95 percent of organic products are given an AB (Agriculture Biologique) label on their packaging. In the 1990s, as it has in the rest of the world, organic became trendy in Paris, and the past few years have seen an explosion of organic markets, stores and restaurants. These places are no longer just present, quietly frequented by aging hippies; theyre fast becoming hotspots.
But now that even discount grocery chains such as Leader Price carry their own brand of organic products, the hippest of the hip want more. In a decade where everyone seems to be searching for meaning and personalization, the true and unique organic product cant just be factory-made like everything else; it has to be handmade artisanal the culinary equivalent of bespoke tailoring. A combination of a growing quest for all things that are at once exclusive and real and grass roots national pride fueled by reactions against American taxation affecting all kinds of gourmet imports from foie gras and roquefort as well as by what French political analyst Alain Duhamel calls a rejection of cultural and culinary dispossession is leading up to a new trend: post Baba-cool, neo-organic farm chic.
An alternative take on this organic movement is a sleek agro-urban concept store scheduled to open October 8. Just off ultra-exclusive rue St-Honoré, La Ferme (55-57, rue St-Roch, 1er) is a fusion of farmers market/organic take-out/restaurant and salon de thé. When I walk into some organic stores, says owner Phillipe Baranes,quite frankly, Im afraid. Its like Im walking into a pharmacy. I get the feeling that Im supposed to be sick and that these people are going to fix me. Not so at this city oasis offering organic raw milk and veggies, in a spotlit atmosphere mixing ambient jazz with down on the farm features like milk cans and unfinished wood.
Pledged to supplying his customers with authentic high quality produce, Baranes will personally select, collect and deliver products from more than a dozen local farms, on a daily basis. Industrial foods have a sort of aseptic taste. Products made with a specific person working behind them automatically have more flavor, more life. Plus more cachet... and a higher price tag. Most important to the post-organic shopper La Ferme provides artisanally made items and farmyard-to-table accountability. Minimal processing is guaranteed and all the products they sell are raised and handled organically.
In a city with as many pleasure seekers and style-makers as Paris, it was only a matter of time before coping with a food crisis turned into a hedonistic fashion trend. True beauty comes from within, but nourishing your insides with products that are not only organic, but chic, cant hurt. Now is a great time to go bio. So, to help you out, heres our pick of green spots:
Find out whats lurking in your food... The Greenpeace Web site (www.greenpeace.com), can tell you which companies are upfront about their use of genetically altered products, which ones are suspected of using them and which firms have pledged to exclude these OGM ingredients.
Take a breath of (really) fresh air at Le Bon Marché department stores Aromathérapie du Théâtre de la Beauté, where shoppers can inhale certifiably pure air scented with essential oils from a biocatalytic oxgenator. First session free. Mon-Sat, 9:30am to 7pm, 24, rue de Sèvres, 7e, tel: 01.44.39.80.00.
Dont Panic, eat organic
Markets Shop with the well-heeled at the Sunday organic farmers market (bd Raspail at rue de Rennes, 9am to 1:30pm), or for lower prices and a less luxurious clientele, try the Saturday market at place de Clichy (bd des Batignolles between rue de Rome and place de Clichy). On Wednesday and Saturday mornings, head for the avenue du Président Wilson in the 16th, between the place de lAlma and place dIéna.
Supermarkets Look out for generic organic brands at Leader Price, Monoprix, Prisunic, Carrefour and Picard. For supermarket-style organic shopping, theres Côté Vert (Mon-Sat, 9:30am to 8:30pm, Sun, 9:30am to 1:30pm, 19, rue Daguerre, 14e, Mº Denfert Rochereau, tel: 01.56.80.03.33) and in the 15th (Mon-Sat, 10am to 8pm, 332, rue Lecourbe, Mº Balard, tel: 01.40.60.6066) or Canal Bio (daily 10am to 8pm, 46 bis, quai de la Loire, Paris 19e, Mº Jaurès, tel: 01.42.06.44.44) and in the 12th (300, rue de Charenton, Mº Porte de Charenton, tel: 01.44.73.81.50). For a more intimate feel try, Les Herbes du Luxembourg (Mon-Sat, 10:30am to 7:15pm, 3, rue de Médecis, 6e, RER Luxembourg, tel: 01.43.26.91.53) and for bulk staples at rock-bottom prices, O Racines (Mon-Fri, 11am to 1:30pm, 4:40-8pm and Sat 10:30am to 7:30pm, 28, rue Petrelle, 9e, Mº Barbès-Rochechouart, tel: 01.45.26.59.24.)
One of Paris original organic bakeries, Le Moulin de la Vierge, now has six branches, including the original 105, rue Vercingétorix, 14e, Mº Pernety, tel: 01.45.43.09.84; 82, rue Daguerre, 14e, tel: 01.43.22.50.55 and 77 rue Cambronne, 15e, tel: 01.44.49.05.05.
In Montmartre, try Boulangerie Lupo, (Tue-Sat, 7am to 8:30pm and Sun, 7am to 2:30pm, 59, rue dOrsel, 18e, M0 Pigalle, tel: 01.42.23.62.81), where you can watch the bakers at work through a large window behind the counter.
Boulangerie Martin (Tue-Sat, 7am to 1:30pm and 3:30-8pm, 40, rue St-Louis, 4e, Mº Sully Morland, tel: 01.43.54.69.48), offers organic semi-complet bread all week, but you have to wait for the weekends for their famous whole grain loaves.
Boucherie Laudic, (Tue-Sat, 7:30am to 1pm and 4-8pm, 3, rue Beaurepaire, 10e, Mº République, tel: 01.42.08.33.47) and BCB, (Mon, 7am to 3:30pm and Tue-Fri, 7am to 7:30pm, 70, rue Claude-Bernard, 5e, Mº Maubert Mutualité, tel: 01.43.31.12.95) offer a wide selection of organic meats.
If youd like a bio vintage, Cave Estève (Tue-Sat, 10am to 1pm, 2:30-7:30pm, 7, rue de la Cerisaie, 5e, Mº Sully Morland, tel: 01.42.72.33.05) and Caves Taillevent (Mon 2-8pm, Tue-Fri, 9am to 8pm, Sat, 9am to 7:30pm, 199, rue du faubourg St-Honoré, 8e, Mº St-Philippe-du-Roule, tel: 01.45.61.14.09 ) carry a wide selection of organic and biodynamic wines. Or, enjoy a glass at Restaurant Opéra, (5, pl de l'Opéra, 9e, Mº Opéra, tel: 01.40.07.30.10, Mon-Fri, midnight to 2pm, 7:30-10:30pm). Ask the sommelier about their biodynamic wine list.
Bringing it closer to home: organic delivery services and mail order
Convert 200 square meters of conventional farmland into organic production. For 40F a week, Le Campanier, Paris version of Americas community supported agriculture, works with farmers to bring a basket of seasonal organic produce to a drop-off point near you. Call 01.45.60.08.30 for subscription and arrondissement-by-arrondissement delivery information.
Biobourgogne Viande unites 70 organic farms in the Bourgogne region of France that will deliver organic beef, veal, lamb, pork and charcuterie straight to your doorstep. A minimum order for meat is five-six kilos, while organic wine, cheese, fruit and vegetables are also available for a minimum order of 18 kilos. A great way to meet your neighbor offer to split a delivery. Call 03.86.72.92.27 or go to www.biobourgogne.fr to find out more.
Call Jean-Marc Carité, coordinator of Le REVE (Reseau de Vin Ecologique) with the type of wine and region youd like, then hell put you in touch with a corresponding organic grower and arrange for home delivery, tel: 05.58.79.17.93.
Au Grain de Folie, (Mon-Fri, 12:30-2:30pm and 7:30-10:30pm, 24, rue La Vieuville, 18e, Mº Abbesses, tel: 01.42.58.15. 57) the vegetarian restaurant for non-vegetarians forms a vital part of a quirky Montmartre backstreet. Meet up with lots of American and English expats Au Grenier Notre-Dame (Mon-Sun, midnight to 2:30pm and 7-10:30pm, 18, rue de la Bûcherie, 5e, Mº St-Michel, tel: 01.43.29.98.29) and enjoy a beautiful view of the cathedral or have lunch at Guenmai, the oldest organic restaurant in Paris (Mon-Sat, 11:45am to 3:30pm, 6, rue Cardinale, Mº Mabillon, tel: 01.43.26.03.24).
A day on a farm
Close to home Check out the Ferme de Paris, a mini demonstration farm in the Bois de Vincennes, (Route de pesage, Bois de Vincennes, Sat-Sun, 1:30-7pm).
Further afield For a day or a weekend out, get your hand on a copy of Vacances et weekends à la ferme, (Michel Smith, Guides Ballande, 1999) for a complete listing of farmstays, tours and tastings.
Farmer for a day For a week, a month or a year... If youd like to try your hand at organic farming, contact Willing Workers on Organic Farms (WWOOF, PO Box 2675 Lewes, East Sussex BN7 1RB U.K.), a non-profit organization that can send you a list work-exchange projects proposed by organic farms worldwide.
For a complete guide to green living in Paris, check out Vivre Bio à Paris (Catherine Mercadier, Parigramme, Paris 1999). Or, to touch base with organics everywhere you go, pick up the Guide Bio de la France by Eve François and Robert Pinto (Editions Michel Lafon), which lists organic markets and outlets all over France.