I’ve hinted here and there that I am part of a locavore group here in Amiens. Or to be more precise, I am part of a group of French and international twenty-something-year-olds who are concerned about the way students eat. In an effort to promote supporting local farmers and producers, we have developed a project called Aliment’ton local (Let’s eat local), which I am proud to be a part of. The goal is to encourage students to eat locally, and (re)learn to cook, within the constraints of a limited student budget and a studio apartment that often lacks an oven. Our goal is to both educate young students and professionals in Amiens and to develop a network of local cultivators and producers of regional food and drink. With this goal in mind we’ve begun to offer once a month a series of cooking workshops or ateliers, the first having taken place in October. The result was both simple and astonishing: successfully producing at less than 3 euros per person a delicious meal of local varieties of squash and pumpkin in a convivial atmosphere. We sampled different courges and worked together to peel and cut up carrots, a bright orange potimarron, and potatoes de Picardie.
Last night we had another event, one that was exceptionally thought-provoking. It was a ciné-repas (dinner and a movie), where we came together to watch a 25-min film called “Je mange donc je suis” (I eat therefore I am). If you are interested, you can find the film (in French) on Youtube at the following link:
For those who can’t understand French, here’s a brief summary: in 1994, a group of nations signed what was to be known as the Marrakesh Agreement, which birthed the World Trade Organization and established free international trade (libre-échange in French). While in many ways it might appear to be a good thing to have competitive international trading in order to guarantee the lowest price for consumers, what it means in terms of food trading and exporting has more or less been disaster, poverty, and famine. Countries like Brazil and the Unites States, where monoculture and huge tracks of mechanized farms allow for the production of cheap, mass quantities of food, force the price of food on an international level to be below subsistence costs for small-time farmers. It has lead to the demise of the family farmer in both the U.S. and Europe and to increasing poverty and mass dislocation of the rural population to urban slums in countries of Africa and Asia. Farmers worldwide simply can’t compete with massive agroindustry or gigantic mega-farms, and as a result, they give up on agriculture. In such countries the majority of the population relies on food aid. The cycle seems non-sensical, especially since it also coincides with the loss of food culture and traditions as well as local plant specimens tied to a certain region.
At the end of the film, we did a bit of role-playing. One group had to defend the politicians, either regional or national, who make up the laws concerning food and food trade. Another group represented agroindustry. A third stood for the citizens, and the last group presented the plight of traditional farmers worldwide. It was certainly interesting to put oneself in the shoes of such different types of people in order to understand all that’s at stake with this issue.
We ended the night with a delicious shared meal of soup: one pot of potato and leek soup and another of potimarron, potato, and carrot soup. All were local picards vegetables.
Have you thought about the food you eat or where it comes from? What do you think about the types of issues presented in a film like Je mange donc je suis?