Before I float my boats (and explain why there is a picture of a Russian Auchan supermarket at the top of this page), here are two bits of business:
a) Due to supply chain issues and a nasty case of layaboutism, the much-anticipated “Wet February Hexagon Paris Wine Walk” has been rebranded the “Monsoon March Marais Wine March”. Geoffrey Finch of Paris Wine Walks will lead the two-kilometre walk. Along the way we will visit secret vineyards and locals-only wine bars, break good bread, open bottle after bottle of truly excellent wine, and share copious plates of delicious food – all locally sourced (of course!) and ever-so seasonal.
Date: Monday, 13 March, 3-7 pm.
b) Our feature-length documentary Ghost Artist will soon have two screenings in a private cinema in the Third Arrondissement of Paris. Wine and refreshments will be served after the screenings.
Date: Saturday, 1 April, exact screening times TBC closer to the date, but probably something like 5 pm and 7 pm.
If you wish to attend a), b), or both, email me. Spaces are VERY limited.
Cost for a): 35 euros, which is half the usual “Wine your way through the Marais” price. And it’s half that again for paid subscribers of Hexagon. That’s right. Hexagon paid subscribers, 17.50€. Subscribe here.
Cost for b): Free to paid subscribers of Hexagon. That’s right. Hexagon paid subscribers, free. (Free for everyone else too but that’s beside the point.) Subscribe here.
Tell others here:
The food and wine served at these two Paris events will not come from supermarkets. Not that I have anything against supermarkets. There are 33 conveniently located within a 5-minute walk of my front door. I have used them all. Usually just for toilet paper and dishwasher tablets, but sometimes, from the four organic ones, for a wider range of fare. Panisse for example. Or choucroute. Oatmeal. Beluga lentils. Black Venere rice. From the many Asian supermarkets in our neighbourhood, bitter melon, daikon, kimchi, gochujang, tofu, gai lan, etc. But for most of my produce I go to street markets or the many “circuit court” farm shops that have popped up all over Paris over the last decade.
Before the farm shops arrived, Parisians had next-to-no access to good, local greens, herbs, fruits and vegetables. Of course, this is relative; they had better access than most North Americans or Brits did and do. But home cooks couldn’t get the really good stuff. It went straight to high-end restaurants.
Street markets, then as now, sold mainly semi-industrial fare procured at Paris’s giant wholesale market in the southern suburb of Rungis.
Rungis, the second largest wholesale food market in the world, was created to replace Les Halles, Paris’s fresh-food central market, which was replaced in 1973 by Europe’s largest and ugliest underground shopping centre.
The ten centuries of Les Halles – the "Belly of Paris" – will be food for future thoughts. Today, I want to focus on supermarkets and hypermarkets, which, according to my new best friend Bing:
offer a large variety of goods at one place, which leads to convenience and efficiency for customers12.
have fixed prices for all the goods, which eliminates bargaining and ensures fairness3.
increase the sales and brand awareness of the products they sell, which benefits both the suppliers and the consumers42.
operate on a self-service basis, which reduces labour costs and gives customers more freedom of choice23.
All undeniably true, Bing. And did you know that everything on the shelves of the 300 Franprix supermarkets in Paris (part of the Casino Group) is delivered by river barge and electric trucks? And that this saves 450,000 road kilometres per year and nearly 250 tonnes of CO²?
But what about the negative effects supermarkets have had on French society?
They have reduced the number of traditional markets and small shops that offer more organic and locally produced food1.
They have contributed to food waste by throwing away unsold products instead of donating them to charity2.
They have increased the consumption of processed and packaged food that may have lower nutritional value and higher environmental impact1.
You read that Independent article incorrectly, Bing: The French Senate banned stores from throwing away unspoiled food in 2016. And two years before that, Intermarché, the third largest supermarket chain in France (after Leclerc and Carrefour), began a campaign to sell – instead of throw away – “ugly” fruits and vegetables, at prices 30% lower than their “pretty” counterparts. Others followed suit. Soon chains of “anti-gaspillage” (“anti-waste”) supermarkets opened around the country, selling everything from “moche” Camembert to almost-expired duck confit.
So try again. Is that all you’ve got for negative effects?
Really, that’s the best you can do?
Pretty lame, Bing.
When I first moved to France, blah blah blah.
When I first moved to France, one of the things that surprised me most was how ghost-town-gutted most countryside commerce was. Quaint zombie villages with dead cafés and restaurants, shuttered butchers, abandoned bakeries. If they were lucky, they had a depot de pain selling shit bread made in a factory somewhere and trucked in. Or a fish truck would roll through town once a week.
Invariably, a few kilometres out of town, the parking lots of the hypermarchés were filled with cars, and the hypermarchés with people pushing cartloads of convenience crap.
Sorry. That “crap” crack was neither fair nor accurate. In rural France, the big box chains usually had the best fishmongers, bakers and butchers. And still do. But just the same, the carts were mostly loaded with convenience crap. And still are. Just as they are in Paris. How oft have I woefully watched a week’s worth of supermarketed product roll forward on the tapis de caisse ahead of my recycled toilet paper and thought, wow, not a whit of life, not a nanoparticle of nutrition, not a dusted-speck of deliciousness.
Of course, there’s nothing necessarily “wrong” with that. A lot of people don’t give a fig about food. A lot of people have other things on their minds – science, art, justice, the needs of loved ones, the state of the world. A lot of people, people I know well, that I love and admire (like my wife), find people like me – people who eat food not only out of hunger but as a hobby – boring, self-indulgent, trend-obsessed, good-for-nothing halfwit snobs.
Hardly people at all.
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Last week, the French government launched a €12 million programme to support small business projects in villages (-1,000 inhabitants), with grants of up to €80,000 for a physical shop and €20,000 for a mobile shop. The programme kicks off 1 March.
In Paris last week, city hall announced the official launch of "Paris Commerce", a programme aimed at revitalising city-owned retail spaces in “neighbourhoods where commercial activity lacks diversity.” The city manages 7,200 such spaces, a little more than 10% of the city’s entire commercial stock. Bookshops, butchers, bakeries, textiles shops, doctors and health clinics are on the list of businesses eligible for rents "very slightly" below the market. One thousand new shopkeepers have already been handed the keys. Among the new shops, just on the rue de l'Ouest in the Fourteenth alone: A l’Ouest, a bookshop and tea salon run by a former Breton high-school teacher, Un Regard Sur Toi, a clothing shop for the visually impaired, and the city’s ninth Nous Anti-Gaspi supermarket.
Auchan has 144 hypermarkets and 726 supermarkets in France. One of its supermarkets is just around the corner from me. It and the rest are owned by the Mulliez family, one of the biggest, oddest and most secretive family fortunes in France. The Mulliez own some 130 brands around the world and employ 700,000 people. They make around €100 billion a year. Among its brands is Leroy Merlin, where most of the building supplies we used to renovate our apartment were bought. They also own Decathlon, where I’ve bought bicycles and swimsuits and had squash rackets restrung. They also own Flunch, which is apparently a portmanteau blend of “fast” and “lunch” and to be avoided at all costs.
Since last March, I have also at all costs avoided Auchan and Leroy Merlin. Actually, come to think of it, I’ve never been in the Auchan around the corner. But I won’t be going in any time soon. Why? Because last March, while almost every other Western brand pulled out of Russia after the invasion of Ukraine, Auchan and Leroy Merlin stayed put. And, as you’ll see in a paragraph or two, doubled down.
“Abandoning our employees, their families, and our customers is not a choice we can make.” Abandoning their turnover, either. Auchan has 230 stores in Russia, where it earns 10% of its annual gross revenue – close to €3.2 billion a year.
Then last week, Le Monde (story and video in English) and The Insider, using intel provided by Bellingcat, handed us another reason to boycott Mulliez businesses. According to their joint investigation, Auchan and Leroy Merlin have been supplying goods to the Russian military on the frontlines since the very start of the war. Goods described as “humanitarian aid” – which contravenes international law, as only assistance to civilians is considered humanitarian aid during international conflicts. From Auchan warehouses and Auchan stores all over Russia. Collected by volunteers. Delivered by local authorities. What’s more, according to The Insider, “Auchan collected and handed over to the military registration and enlistment offices data on its employees.”
So, cut the convenience crap, OK?
Support local. Think global. Eat wisely. Shop wiser. Yada yada.
Thanks for reading.
Super article ! Merci
J'applaudis , moi qui ai vu, à la campagne, au cours des décennies, les supermarchés et les hypermarchés remplacer les petits commerçants du village - et les faux bons "marchés locaux" un peu partout, approvisionnés par des maraichers "locaux" qui ne sont pas respectueux du tout de la Natur!
People can be so gullible... ( quand on leur disait de manger "complet", ils avaient bonne conscience et ne réfléchissaient pas au fait qu'en ne choisissant pas du bio, ils consommaient encore plus de pesticides etc. )
Que dire de l'évolution des boulangeries ? Du vrai bon pain local qd j'étais petite, à la campagne, puis horrible blanc gonflé qui tenait une demi journée - quand à Paris le pain redevenait bon, parfois , puis de plus en plus - effet boomerang puisque,qqs décennies plus tard, de plus en plus de boulangers à la campagne essaient de faire du pain plus" intéressant" ( mais souvent non bio, donc à fuir si complet etc etc i could go on but won't ...as it is quite infuriating .
Comme mes amies me disent qu'ils ont rarement vu qq'un d'aussi intéressé par la bouffe, et que je l'ai pris comme une critique ( il parait que c'était un compliment ), je suppose qu'il faudrait que le ministère de la santé et celui du commerce etc se souviennent plus souvent que le "père de la médecine" , Hyppocrate fut aussi le premier à mettre en avant l’importance de l’alimentation dans la santé. ( il semble que la citation qu'on lui attribue " que ton aliment soit ton médicament" soit fausse).
A good read sport. Thx