A Goose in Toulouse: And Other Culinary Adventures in France Paperback – 1 Jun 2002
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Rosenblum's chief concern here is French cuisine and what's happening to it--as well as the refined tastes of the average Frenchman. The treasures of the French table--including the famous 246 kinds of cheese--are at risk today. The economic power of international agribusiness and bureaucratic meddling by the European Union combine to drive many small food producers out of business. At the same time, restaurants face competition from "McDo" (as the French call Mickey-Dee) and small open-air markets are steadily undermined by supermarkets of a size even Americans would blanch at. All this sounds so far like a recipe for unrelieved gloom, but that is far from the case. Rosenblum travels widely interviewing chefs and cheesemakers among others, and it's suprising how many of them manage to be hopeful of the future. That's partly because Rosenblum is usually eating his way through France, and to have him describe a meal is what it must have been like to hear Keats read his own poems.
Rosenblum is a knowledgeable man with a lot of French history at his fingertips--and when he doesn't, he's still a reporter: he looks it up. As a result the reader feels secure that there's something here besides mere personal opinion, and surprising facts emerge. Most of us, for example, take it for granted that France's devotion to cheese is bone deep; in fact, Rosenblum learns from one of France's true maitres that it's really a recent phenomenon.
The writing itself is excellent and rewarding; Rosenblum is lighthearted at the keyboard and he doesn't shy away from a first-rate pun. For example, explaining that French peasants supported the Revolution partly because hunting was strictly a royal privilege, Rosenblum notes that "the reign was called on account of game." More important is Rosenblum's sincere love of France and--despite the recent waves of hysterical, anti-immigrtant nationalism--the French people as well.
On top of everything else, "A Goose in Toulouse" is a terrific antidote to the cynical calculations of "A Year in Provence."
His having captured the essence of French food and culture allows you to walk away with the feeling that while big fast food conglomerates have a growing presence, all hope is not lost. The conversations with everyone from Alain Ducasse to the captain of a fishing boat in Molene gives you pretty good idea of how the French feel about the unification of Europe, the laws coming from Brussels and about what lies in their future. He paints a picture of France beyond the tourist trap that is present day Paris and other excellent food beyond foie gras.
The author gives a very balanced view of the French. It is obvious that he is in love with France and all that goes with it but is not blind to it's faults. He often refers to the ego of the French and offers no apologies for many of his other criticisms.
My strongest impression on reading this book is that the author is describing many of the situations which drive people, at least citizens of France and the European Union, to organize protests at world economic summits or other meetings or organizations aimed at promoting globalization. Economic conditions in France and regulations imposed by the European Union appear to be leading to the disappearance of small scale agriculture in France, the kind of agriculture which is largely responsible for the artisnal foods and wines for which France is so famous. The great irony here to my mind is that in the same last 15 years, there has been a great revival of interest in both local and international artisanal products among Americans. Whitness the great reputation and influence of Chez Panisse and the movement to support local farmers and markets plus nationally available artisanal products such as Maytag blue cheese and specialty bacons.
Another irony is that the European Union regulatory bodies are having much the same effect on smaller agricultural businesses in Europe as American regulatory agencies have on local products. They appear to be driving out of business the very agriculture which so clearly distinguishes European agricultural products from the American. The issue of cheeses from unpasturized milk is a perfect example. American customs prevents the import of any such products into the U.S. except for Rocquefort (since the French have convinced the FDA that the penicillin in this cheese kills off anything normally eliminated by Pasteurization). The problem is, the economics of producing Rocquefort is becoming so difficult that there is some danger that true Rocquefort may disappear, i.e., be too expensive to produce.
The great tragedy I sense in the disappearance of artisanal products from small scale agriculture is that it means that the relatively inexpensive pleasures one can gain from the great foods of the world are in danger of either disappearing or becoming too expensive for the average middle class foodie to afford. I would really mourn seeing things like Rocquefort or Brie go the way of caviar, simply too expensive and too rare to enjoy outside of a very expensive venue.
I strongly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys contemporary essays in general and essays on things culinary in particular. To those reviewers who found the work too dispassionate, I would point out that Rosenblum is writing journalism and not polemics. Being informed of the `desertification' of the French countryside and the reasons for same was more than enough. I will look for agendas (and recipes) in other works.
Mort Rosenblum has been to lots of parts of France and, on the way, taken good notes. He also is convinced that his experiences point to the decline of 'the better days' in French cuisine, etc. and that you will care. What he doesn't do, however, is help you care by telling you what brings that decline about, how to regain this Eden, if it's inevitable, what the moral to his tale is, etc.. In short, the cause is a nice platform for him to try out his tedious and bombastic style while he tells you what it's like in France a la Rosenblum.
Cuisine is, of course, not dead in France, though the country continues to change in the face of an evolving Europe and modernity encroaches, as ever it has. Rosenblum tells you that, but without taking the next logical step: urging you to go see it. If you can't go to France to experience directly all that entails for the lover of food (which you should, with an open mind and gastronomical vigor), pick up a humble and compelling tale like M.F.K. Fischer's _Long Ago in France_. If you do, you'll spare yourself the patronizing ramblings of Rosenblum that often strain for creativity and languish until they pass into the bizarre, as in this analogy, "Still, if Roquefort is marbling its way into the United States, the way those blue pockets spread in wheels of cheese, there is still some way to go."
The only way you can like this book is if you don't have an affinity for food writing or France to be offended or if your generous nature overwhelms your critical mind. Mr. Rosenblum needs you to say, "ain't that man clever." If you can't, you'll not gain from his book.