Sarkozy Turns It Into an Halal-Kiri Election
France without gastronomy would be France diminished so no surprise that the presidential election campaign seems to be taking some meatier aspects of food seriously, even though voter concerns are elsewhere.
(Read more French News here)
Showing increasing relish for a spicy election menu the combative maitre’d, Nicolas Sarkozy has, in the process of making a campaign meal out of meat, antagonised two religious groups with criticism of ritual slaughter in a modern world – and been sharply reproached for his audacity.
Jews and Muslims united in protest to reject efforts to turn them into p(r)awns in a campaign increasingly dominated by bitter disputes over immigration, national identity and ritual slaughter. France’s Chief Rabbi Gilles Bernheim told the AFP news agency : “at this time (of major economic crisis) how can kosher and halal be a major issue for France”. An angered French Council of the Muslim Faith condemned what it said was an effort to make Muslims “scapegoats” in the election campaign.
More fiery younger Muslims such as Fateh Kimouche, a high-profile Muslim blogger were incensed. Kimouche told the UK’s Guardian newspaper: “We are Muslims and we are French, but every day we are attacked, insulted and treated like terrorists or extraterrestrials…. No matter what we do, no matter how hard we try, we are seen as a fifth column, the enemy within, a threat, a menace… France educated us; we have energy and enthusiasm and we have brains, businesses and money. The old generation of politicians don’t seem to realize this.”
Last month Front National leader Marine Le Pen claimed that all meat distributed in the Paris region was halal, a claim denied by abattoirs. However as French News Online reported at the time her claim was based on so-far-unchallenged TV reportage by a generally left-leaning French TV station.
Although the latest polls make clear voters rank jobs, housing and spending power among their prime election concerns, food appears to have become the red meat presidential campaigning issue both for the incumbent and those determined to depose him.
Halal as a touch point has long been Marine le Pen’s dog-whistle — a popular hot-button that effectively conveys concerns over migrants, jobs lost for French workers, the republican and secular state and French nationalism. Sarkozy’s reaction has been to try to out-Pen Le Pen and thus staunch supporter leakage to her camp. Socialist challenger François Hollande stands aloof from these machinations but appears more a candidate of disenchanted rather than conviction voters, hardly a recommendation for victory. Furthermore in the event that he should win, the general election that follows might just result in a spell of governing cohabitation, between a president of one political colour and a parliament of another.
Meanwhile a few days before Sarkozy hit the campaign trail Xavier Denamur, a leftwing Parisian restaurateur released his own personal blockbuster with a view he said, of making mince of Sarkozy. Denamur’s Caféine corporate conglomerate in the Marais district — said to earn him a comfortable 800,000 euros a year — owns La Belle Hortense, Les Philosophes, Le Petit Fer à Cheval, L’étoile Manquante and La Chaise au Plafond all in a block on the Rue Vieille duTemple.
République de la Malbouffe or Junk Food Republic is a film produced by Jacques Goldstein with the support of Pierre Haski’s leftwing online newspaper Rue 89. Its advance publicity — billing Denamur as the Michael Moore of la gastronomie française — suggested it would focus on the ‘junk’ that, it has been claimed some French restaurants serve as gourmet food. However as a critic in the same industry points out, apart from the final 20 minutes, its focus is more a reflection of the confused ideas of a restaurateur with a bee in his bonnet about VAT than an expose of junk food. The film is that of a “firebrand activist who offers no real debate” on the issues the title leads one to expect would be the core, Le blog de l’aubergiste concludes.
This 25 minute interview was aired in Radio TSF98’s Magazine programme. In it Xavier Denamur describes himself as a “militant de l’intérêt général” — an” ordinary citizen” in other words.
Other issues that have surfaced as the softer underbelly perhaps, of this food-driven campaign, include an off-cut by Slate magazine seeking to divert the issue from politics to animal welfare and the odyssey of the warring Breton butcher, Yves-Marie Le Bourdonnec.
M. Bourdonnec was featured in a recent Le Point article (available online, subscribers only) as Le Boucher S’en Va-T-En Guerre. He is a 43-year old, red-blooded Breton butcher who insists that the crucial issue, far from being halal, kosher or whatever, is that more than 95% of French beef comes from “body building” milk cows (cheptel laitier) making those restaurant prime ribs the maitre’d urges you try “soft, tasteless and bland”. Fighting talk you might say and certainly an red-meat issue that ought to be on the election trail. France’s beef breeding industry is in crisis M. Bourdonnec says, “because the butchers have killed the business by paying on carcass weight rather than meat quality”. The English he insists, produce the best beef. “They farm their beef the way we make our best wines with reverent attention to terroir, breeding stock and pasture”.
Listen here to his provocative views as reported by RTL2 radio on March 5:
M. Bourdonnec, the warrior butcher, admits that proper beef raised for this purpose –and for which “the French are fous” — does not come cheap. His flagship butchery in Asnières each year dispatches some 250 French cows — suitably reduced to prime, dressed and matured cuts — at 75 euros a kilo against the average 25 euros a kilo most supermarket shoppers expect to pay.
Meanwhile the French version of Slate magazine insists that the real issue behind the halal and kosher dog-whistling has been missed. The polemic involves the mistreatment of the animals concerned. Writer Jean-Yves Nau, a former medical doctor and public health official at l’Ecole des hautes études en santé publique (EHESP), says the various statements (by vote seeking politicians) have generated “great excitement”. However the politicians should focus on “mitigating animal suffering” in the abbatoirs so as to bring slaughtering practises in France fully in line with the various cross-border public health and EU initiatives on these issues. He suggests the authorities are dragging their feet in a sensitive area. In November 2011 he writes, Gilles Salvat, director of animal health and welfare, announced that a working group “on the welfare of animals intended for human consumption” would soon be formed. Since then silence. No data, says the writer, “on how much work has been done is available from the relevant department, which does not hide its embarrassment at the mention of the subject.” The article draws attention to a European Directive from 1993 “that sought to require EU member states ensure the amount of meat slaughtered by ritual means should be in direct proportion to the quantities needed for the religious populations that consume it.”
Another beef battle in the offing perhaps?
Story: Ken Pottinger
- Sarkozy nixes halal meat in schools for Muslims (altahrir.wordpress.com)
- Claude Guéant’s unsurprising appeal to far right voters in French presidential election (france-today.com)
- This Halal meat upset leaves Nicolas Sarkozy in a bad way | Pierre Haski (guardian.co.uk)
- A New Human Right (artgoldhammer.blogspot.com)
- Duck Fat or Live and Let Liver
- Halal – France’s Future Nouvelle Cuisine
- French Cuisine: When Pop beats Classical
- Ritual Animal Slaughter a Health Hazard?