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Parisian food Culture

The scents and bright colors attacked my senses. I could smell the freshness of the fruits and vegetables. Is this what real fresh food is like? Is it possible that one can come and buy these products every day? It’s so easy to get seduced by the food in Paris, to get lost in the indulgence of taste and smell. Vendors were shouting from their stands, encouraging people to buy or taste a sample of fruit. My initial reaction was to try everything and I couldn’t decide which fruit to try first. I was being exposed to so many new things. Before the market walk, I had never seen a passion fruit before. I asked for one and was surprised by the flavor and by the scent which was really floral and sweet. I also tried a sample of the best mango I have ever tasted. The market was not too crowded considering it was still early and it was a Tuesday, a normal work day.  This allowed us to enjoy the market and interact with the vendors. We practiced the little French we knew. “Bon jour! Merci! Au revoir!” It was a lively scene for only a small amount of people and I felt so comfortable. On the other hand, the market also made me think about home and it made me a little sad. I couldn’t help but compare the scene in front of me to the markets at home. It made me realize how the markets in Sacramento are not at all like the ones in Paris.

 

In Sacramento, I live in the low income area called Fruitridge. When I walk in the small store across the street from my house, I see row after row filled with snacks like chips or microwave meals. By the entrance there is tiny fridge filled with only a handful of fruits that do not look appealing, and the location of it makes it very easy to miss. The fruit is often bruised and rotting, nothing like the fresh, colorful fruit in the Parisian market. It wasn’t always like this. The store at one point has a small butcher area and decent fruits and vegetables, but it didn’t last long because that stuff just didn’t sell well.  Most people in the area depend on food stamps to help with groceries. Instead of buying good nutritious food, people are forced to buy cheap, unhealthy food. Fruits and vegetables are more expensive therefore people tend to go with the cheaper options. Organic foods or food at farmer’s markets are way too expensive for the people in my neighborhood. Money and the lack of access is not the only problem.

 

During this trip, I have realized that the food systems in America and France are extremely different. It really hit me while we walked by the many fruit and vegetable stands in Paris. The Parisians value taste and quality. Parisians care about food and appreciate it. Meanwhile, in Americans, it is hard to find a food product without additives or preservatives. The list of ingredients is filled with large, unrecognizable words, most of them complex chemicals.

 

To put it bluntly, the American food system does fail to regulate many of the chemicals in products that might not be safe. The French have much higher standards, even for the most simple products.

 

We went to the market and bought ketchup for our breakfast. In France, the ketchup’s first ingredient is tomatoes. The rest of the listed ingredients are vinegar, sugar, salt, and herb and spice extracts. That’s it. No, really. And it’s not some french company, it’s Heinz tomato ketchup, the same brand we have in the states. I was curious about how different the food systems are therefore I asked my friend to take a picture of his ketchup bottle, the same brand as the one we bought from the store. I did not have to read past the first ingredient to already see the difference. What is tomato concentrate? Why do they use high fructose corn syrup? What are the rest of the words that I can’t even pronounce?  

 

Food in France is treated like a religion. Meals are enjoyed and prepared with the freshest ingredients. People do not rush when eating, they sit and taste everything thoroughly. Parisians want to get the most out of their meals and carefully select each part of the meal. Everything down to the beverage is chosen carefully to create a compatible delicious and hearty meal.

 

I was inspired by the food culture in Paris. But when I return to California, I want to do more than just talk about Paris and its amazing food. I want to really expand my access to healthy food at home. I will start with grocery shopping with my family, I can push for better quality food, more fresh fruits instead of more packages. I will push for better food in my community because healthy food should be accessible to everyone like it is in Paris.

 

– Ana Martin