Unintentional humor of the day: Why French food is racist and expresses white supremacy

June 24, 2021 • 11:15 am

The days are gone when I was compelled to take apart papers about feminist glaciology or the unbearable whiteness of pumpkins, yoga, and Pilates. This kind of insanity has become daily fare, and one no longer has to wonder whether it’s a parody or not—it isn’t.  Below, for example, is a long screed about how French food is the apotheosis of white cuisine, ergo is white supremacist, racist, and colonialist. You can read it, but the laughs quickly diminish as you realize that author Mathilde Cohen is absolutely serious in her contentions.

Now it’s no surprise to readers here that I’m a big fan of French food. But I’m not that keen on the the haute or nouvelle cuisine that’s pricey and comes in small portions. I prefer bourgeois cuisine, what the regular people eat who aren’t so poor that can’t afford any decent food. Give me a cassoulet, a coq au vin, a good steak frites, or a haricot mouton, and I’m in paradise—so long as there’s endless bread and a decent bottle of wine. But it turns out that, to Mathilde Cohen, the whole megillah of French food is white, white, white, as well as colonialist and oppressive. Now nobody will deny that France has been a colonial power, and that racism persists in France. But to assert that racism is embodied in the cuisine is an insupportable claim.

Click on the screenshot to read. You can also download a pdf at the site.

Her argument, which I claim works for any cuisine from white countries (or indeed, any cuisine anywhere), is to connect food, which is invariably something a nation prides itself on, with some bad trait of the nation, and then say that they’re connected because they’re both part of the same country. I kid you not! Here’s the abstract!

Food is fundamental to French identity. So too is the denial of structural racism and racial identity. Both tenets are central to the nation’s self-definition, making them difficult, yet all the more important to think about together. This article purports to identify a form of French food Whiteness (blanchité alimentaire), that is, the use of food and eating practices to reify and reinforce Whiteness as the dominant racial identity. To do so, it develops four case studies of how law elevates a fiction of homogeneous French/White food as superior and normative at the expense of alternative ways of eating and their eaters—the law of geographical indications, school lunches, citizenship, and cultural heritage.

Well, Galoises cigarettes and polite behavior (politesse) are fundamental to French self-definition, too, and yet do we want to see papers on how they’re connected? What about fish and chips and a love of the British monarchy? In fact, most European countries, even if they have racial friction, “deny structural racism or racial identity”, and try to assimilate immigrants.

One of Cohen’s beefs is that France, when deciding to confer citizenship on someone, looks for evidence that they’ve assimilated to some degree into the culture. To her—and she really has to stretch to make this argument— this means eating the national dishes. But that’s bogus, as there are plenty of French citizens who eat the food of their ancestors. Algerian food like couscous, for example, is so ubiquitous that it’s almost a French food now. (Cohen also argues that in this transformation it’s somehow become “white”.) And she has not the slightest evidence (well, she has one dubious anecdote from 1919), that eating French food is considered evidence of
assimilation.”

But I digress. I’ll just reprise her four arguments and pass on (or pass out):

The law of geographical indications.  This is the French use (and not exclusively French; Italians and other countries do it, too) of controlled appellations, so that a food or drink must be from a specified region of origin to be labeled as such. Champagne is the classic example, as it has to be made in the Champagne region of France. American bubbly or Spanish cava cannot be labeled “champagne.” Likewise with Roquefort cheese, as I recall. This system designed to give the consumer some confidence in the quality of the product, but Cohen says these are signs of French colonialism and “the racialized project of ensuring that the White majority can maintain its foodways and agricultural wealth.”  Enough said.

The law of school lunches.  France specifies a school lunch programs, with many lunches offered cheaply or free to poorer kids. The food is hot and designed to be nutritious. What foods are offered differ among municipalities. What Cohen objects to is that the cuisine doesn’t cater to special diets, even though Cohen adds that many schools “quietly accommodate students with religious based dietary restrictions”. Students are also allowed to bring lunches from home.  This is part of the French tradition of laïcité , or secularism, avoiding entanglement of religion and government.

Cohen says that this is imposing Christian whiteness on the school food, though Wikipedia contradicts her, saying “food menus served in secondary schools pay particular attention to ensuring that each religious observer may respect his religion’s specific restrictions concerning diets.”  Since I don’t know the truth, I’ll pass on.

The law of citizenship. People applying for citizenship in France need not be white, as you’ll notice immediately when you see the high proportion of North Africans, Asians, and black Africans in the big cities. What exercises Cohen is that prospective citizens must show some evidence of assimilation, though of course not full assimilation. The implication is that assimilation requires adoption of French food, but this doesn’t appear to be the case. Sohen gives only one example, and that’s from 1919:

To illustrate, in 1919, one Ignace, born in Madagascar to a Malagasy mother, applied for citizenship on the ground that he was the unrecognized son of a French national. The records of the Antananarivo colonial civil bureau contain a memo mentioning approvingly his service in the French Foreign Legion during the war, his seriousness and humility, before scrutinizing his lifestyle. A shift in Ignace’s dwelling and diet is observed. Before the war, Ignace “lived with his mother . . . in a simply furnished cottage kept in the indigenous style [à l’indigène]. The basis of their diet was rice.” Upon returning from the front, Ignace moved in with a Greek friend from the Legion. The memo observes that now “he always eats with this European and is nearly constantly in his company,” concluding that the application should be granted. While Ignace’s service in the armed forces is the primary basis for the positive appraisal, his transition from the typical rice-based, Malagasy diet despised by colonists to a “European” diet clearly militated in his favor.

. . .Ignace’s renunciation of rice and eating on a mat on the floor together with his commensality with a White man must have been assessed as signs of White enculturation and performance

She must have dug hard to find the story of Ignace! Now Cohen doesn’t say that Ignace abjured rice, only that he “ate with a European.”  At that, brother and sisters, friends and comrades, is the totality of Cohen’s “citizenship” argument for the whiteness of French food. She mentions people being denied citizenship for other reasons, like gender segregating in their homes, but that has nothing to do with food.

The law of cultural heritage. This rests solely on UNESCO’s having designated the “gastronomic meal of the French” as an item on its list of “intangible cultural heritage” items. This is defined “as a four-course repast beginning with apértif and ending with digestif, served with appropriate wines and tableware, and made up of carefully chosen components.”

Why is this racist and expressive of Whiteness? Cohen tells us:

The creation and defense of the idea of a gastronomic meal of the French involved erasing not only the diversity of eating practices of French citizens across races and ethnicities, but also among Whites, essentializing a supposed innate national (and racial) character. For Ruth Cruickshank, “[t]he repas gastronomique des Français seeks to solve a perceived problem of French decline by inventing a codified ‘French’ meal which, as well as eliding cultural diversity, fails to grasp how food cultures survive by maintaining their currency through the negotiation of change and the accommodation of external influences.” In short, it is a White washed (and bourgeois) version of French foodways which is now consecrated by the World Intangible Heritage List.

Give me a break! The diversity of eating practices remains in France, but you can’t make a diversity of habits an “intangible cultural heritage”. It would be a different list in Italy, with antipasto, pasta, contorno, etc., and in China it would also vary among provinces, but would include multiple courses served at once, usually with rice or another starch, and the dishes often stir fried. Just because each nation has some characteristic ways of eating, as does France, does not mean that France is trying to enshrine whiteness. Let me add that the “heritage” French meal is something that should be experienced, and something I love, for it’s not just dinner, but theater as well.

Such is Cohen’s argument for the Unbearable Whiteness of French food. It’s much worse than I make out here, as the whole essay is larded with the usual jargon and with arguments that have nothing to do with her main point. The poor scholar must be hard up for topics to write about.  And yet she threatens to continue!

This article connects critical Whiteness studies and food studies in the French context. It has shown that the set of eating habits known as French are racialized in a way that reinforces White dominance. The four cases studies examined here—geographical indications, school lunches, citizenship law, and world heritage law—buttress an ideal of White alimentary identity implying that non-White and non-Christian communities are insignificant, alien, or deviant. Law has been a primary tool to shape food production and choices, privileging and normalizing certain alimentary practices and stigmatizing others. The current legal regime marginalizes racial and ethnic minorities in their foodways through the elevation of White French food as the high status, legally protected food.

. . .Though this article focused on the Whiteness of French food from within, it has relevance for the broader understanding of racial identity formation through eating in other socio-cultural contexts. As such it is but one installment of what I hope will be a series of scholarly contributions on the Whiteness of French food in France and outside of France.

By the way, I found the description of the author at the end, well, interesting. . . .

Mathilde Cohen is the George Williamson Crawford Professor of Law at the University of Connecticut and formerly a research fellow at the CNRS. She works in the fields of constitutional law, comparative law, food law, and race, gender and the law. Her research has focused on various modes of disenfranchisement in French and U.S. legal cultures. She has written on why and how public institutions give reasons for their decisions and the lack of judicial diversity. She currently examines the way in which bodies coded as female are alternatively empowered and disempowered by the regulation of the valuable materials they produce and consume, in particular milk and placenta.

As the Wicked Witch of the West said, “What a world! What a world!”

À la fin: cassoulet in Paris and a decent red. Ah, France is paradise enow!

 

65 thoughts on “Unintentional humor of the day: Why French food is racist and expresses white supremacy

    1. Just wait until she hears about the traditional christmas Finnish meal – it’s a white meal. Like, all white food.

    2. I’m thinking we go straight back to Swift, and write an essay on how French cuisine is speciesist because they don’t eat immigrants.

      But then again, it’s probably cultural appropriation to apply a satire targeting the British to the French.

      1. I think the targets of A Modest Proposal were the English. The Scots at the time expressed their racialised barbarity by eating what the French call “panse de brebis farci” (haggis), and the Welsh remained restricted to an exclusive diet of leeks. By the way, I was in Wales last week, and witnessed the extent to which American dietary hegemony has contaminated the British Isles: a woman ordered a “Big Mac” in a pub, and was surprised to be served not a hamburger, but “macaroni cheese” (macaroni in a white cheese sauce)…

  1. Awesome final argument!

    I’m listening and fascinated by Charlie Parker right now – clearly, only white supremacy can explain it. Thank you, Ms. Cohen, for raising awareness.

  2. A brief browse of the wikipedia page on immigration to France…I see 5 years’ legal residency required. I see knowledge of French language required. I see some knowledge (+ agreement to follow) French law required. I see some reductions of residency time given for higher ed., or marrying a French person, or military service, or ‘exceptional service.’ But I see nothing saying what you have to eat.

    Though if the government were to say a daily serving of escargots counted as ‘exceptional service’, I don’t think I could gainsay that…

  3. Lindsey, Pluckrose, and Boghossian missed a trick in not including a confection like this on “blanchité alimentaire” in their set of hoax papers. One of the funniest lines in it is: “This article connects critical Whiteness studies and food studies in the French context.” It might be recalled that Robin DiAngelo did her purported graduate work in the field of “Whiteness Studies”. Any day now, we can expect essays connecting Critical Whiteness Studies with Poultry Science, Mortuary Science, Horseshoeing Theory, Floral Management, or Puppet Arts.

    We ought to remember that the current plague originates from the indulgence of a series of fake academic “fields” in the ivory towers. Talk about viruses escaping from a laboratory…..

  4. Additional Commandments of CRT:

    II. Thou shalt not have a national culture, or value it, or attempt to preserve it.

    III. Though shalt not incorporate aspects of any other culture, for this is the heresy of cultural appropriation.

    iV. All cultures are exactly equal. Thou shalt not value one above another.

  5. I have a small quibble. I married the french teacher (I was Physics) and now that we are retired I spend half my life in France. The frite are excellent, but american beef is clearly much better. Let’s substitute french cheese.

    1. And yet potatoes come from the new world while cattle comes from the old world. The whole ‘cuisine appropriation bad’ concept is insane.

  6. I should have including I.

    I. Thou shalt seek out the worst word spoken or deed done by every person.
    – Each person shall be marked and shamed with that worst word or deed, forever.
    – No person, by virtue of good works, shall ever rise above their mark of infamy.
    – Only the pure, the perfect, the blameless, and unblemished shall be tolerated: The Perfect Woke, alone, shall be recognized.

  7. This person appears to be French, and is clearly following in the footsteps of the other French pseuds who have caused so much damage by inflicting postmodernism on the world. I note that she had to come to the US to pursue her bizarre preoccupations. I wonder what the French themselves will have to say about this latest example of ‘la trahison des clercs’.

    1. Martine Cohen is French. Some of us are not very proud of her, to say the least : see the comments here.

      https://www.facebook.com/groups/107376756034394/permalink/3704477779657589/?sfnsn=scwspmo

      Thank you for giving her a job in the US, we already have enough teachers and researchers like her in France. You sent us soldiers who came to liberate us from Nazism and we gave you French theory in exchange — we are ingrates.

      I am joking, but we live in a time when “il faut dépenser le mépris avec une grande économie, à cause du grand nombre de nécessiteux” [contempt must be spent with great economy, because of the great number of people in need].

      Thanks for your blog,
      Paul

    1. Another Additional Commandment of CRT:

      V: All eating is racist. Only eating machine prepared slurry, in a darkened room, alone, is free of the taint of ‘something’ that causes offence to someone, somehow.

      1. Not a chance, “…machine prepared slurry…” is just a smoothie by another name and smoothies are clearly white colonial supremacy in liquified food form.
        And hiding in a darkened room just allows these racist smoothie drinkers to avoid displaying how they cling to being an oppressor.
        I am thinking raw and swallowed whole is the only option (and don’t even think about using plates, utensils, or your fingers).

        For me, what makes all the Critical Theory nonsense bearable is thinking how much material all these silly papers will provide future comedians.

    2. You can’t even not eat without committing a woke crime, for breatharianism is originally derived from Hinduism.

  8. No worries. When Permanent Emergency President Trump is fully ensconced at the end of his second conventional presidency in 2029, all this stuff will be outlawed.

    1. Hey! The faithful are still expected him to be reinstated in August! Date (presumably) TBA. And when that doesn’t happen, yet another date will be picked. Stay tuned!

      1. I’m really interested to hear what Mike (“Have I got a pillow for you”) Lindell will come out with to justify his claim that the Donald is to return from exile in just over a month. Perhaps Mike will turn out to be the new Harold Camping, getting loonier and more desperate failed prediction by failed prediction.

  9. food, which is invariably something a nation prides itself on

    OK, I’ll admit that some of Britain’s self-depreciation about our cuisine is done tongue-in-cheek and foot-in-mouth. But that is to avoid having to actually put some of our food into the oral cavity.

    1. Things have improved immensely in the UK over the last 30 years. We spent 3 weeks in the UK in 2015 (London, Derbyshire, Devon, Somerset, Oxfordshire, Kent) and I don’t remember a bad meal.

      I think my son mostly subsisted on fish and chips and they were superb.

      And the real ale! Don’t get me started!

    1. Try again, replying to Douglas Keck @6 above.

      Let’s substitute french cheese.

      Which one of the deGaulle-ish 200?
      That must be an underestimate – Britain claims 400 types of cheese, which averages to some 80 per county. I could just about believe one per town, but one per village is stretching even my credulousness. France having a considerably lower population density, separation distances are larger and one-cheese-per-village sounds slightly more credible.
      And that reminds me that I need to do some shopping.

  10. The food is hot and designed to be nutritious.

    Well, they’ve got one up on the public school food over here. Since COVID, the schools started doing free lunches for everyone, so kiddo figures it will go to waste if he doesn’t join in. Each day I get a report on what he had that goes something like, “Today was sad burger day”, “Today was sad weird nacho day. The ‘cheese’ was the viscosity of water but had floating meat chunks and was yellow”, “Today was chunks of meat with no sauce”. That said, this article sounds silly.

    I recently watched the Netflix program High on the Hog and thought it was fantastically done, if you want to think about race and food intersecting.

    1. The free lunches we’ve been getting are quite good overall. Which is to say that while the hot entres suck (sad pizza etc.) the meals include a very substantial amount of fresh fruits, vegetables, and dairy. So overall I really can’t complain.

  11. “While Ignace’s service in the armed forces is the primary basis for the positive appraisal, his transition from the typical rice-based, Malagasy diet despised by colonists to a “European” diet clearly militated in his favor”

    Does she mean that the “natural” meals of Ignace should have been rice-based? Is it not racist to say that someone must eat like “these” people eat?

  12. Can someone please explain this part: “females are alternatively empowered and disempowered by the regulation of the valuable materials they produce and consume, in particular milk and placenta.”
    I’ve tried to understand it but am lost.

    1. Sure.

      Denotation: “sometimes laws governing breast feeding and pregnancy help women out. Sometimes they punish women.”

      Connotation: “My theory is consistent with any evidence, so you naysayers can’t show I’m wrong. Nyah.”

    2. The author does not seem to know that the placenta is produced by the foetus (which might be male, obviously) not by the mother.

      Unless she is talking about females eating their baby’s placenta.

  13. Did Josephine Baker feel humiliated by having to eat French cuisine? I expect not.

    Also as far as whiteness in cuisine, my old friend Louis Greenwald, who ran a meat market that specialized in all the necessary ingredients for urban cuisine, and his clientele was largely black. He did a good business in eggs, too (“cheapest source of protein!”). Once, a fresh batch came in that were all brown (tan). Of course there’s no difference inside, but his customers wouldn’t buy them.

  14. A few more papers like these and even lefties like me will join the chorus of “gut the humanities!” I hope that day never comes though. Sadly there are thousands of “scholars” like Cohen out there, filling up the world with not merely useless but also meretricious “studies.” Something has to give.

    1. See arguments based on Cliodynamics. We are allegedly in a period of Elite overproduction, too many elite chasing too few elite jobs and so becoming shrill and strident scrabbling for status and position.

    2. What humanities? What social sciences? Everything is Sociology 101. Get rid of it. Put all gov’t funding into pragmatic courses. Make students pay full fare for their indocrination. To me it is child abuse and the gov’t should have no part in funding it.

  15. And people are getting paid to excrete stuff like this onto a page? Like, really money, not Monopoly money or old funhouse tokens?!

  16. According to Reason.com, UConn paid for a three day retreat with Robin DiAngelo for their top officials. This article was from July 14, 2020 by Robby Soave.

    The school paid $20,000 to this antiracism expert.
    Looking at the article by Cohen, I guess the training paid off.

  17. “This article purports to identify…” Meriam-Webster “Purport: to have the often specious appearance of being, intending, or claiming (something implied or inferred).”

  18. I want to know that when I go to New Zealand and eat some Pūhā what type of white supremacist I am.

    1. Diana, you may recall that there is an old song in New Zealand which describes your food identity when associated with Pūha.

  19. You’d think that if anyone was to want food cultures to be integral to identity, then it applies to all nations / regions, or applies to none of them. Should we lament the destruction of indigenous cuisines if we rue the preservation of the cuisines of former colonial powers? You can’t have food culture mattering for some and not others.

    As for French cuisine, it should be considered a global treasure. It’s what every foodie and food-minded person should want in a cuisine – a culture dedicated to achieving excellence in the art of cooking. There are very few cuisines that can match it in quality, inventiveness, and how integral it is to living the good life. Trying to link that to white supremacy is trying to find problems where there are none, and a sure sign that there aren’t any better problems in the world that need solving…

    1. There was an article on ABC in Australia a couple of years ago that accused the good food guide (Australia’s equivalent to the Michelin guide) of being racist because if you exclude Japanese, there was a disproportionate number of French and Italian restaurants in the guide.

      For one, excluding Japanese just made the argument silly because the reason Japanese is so prevalent is the same reason French and Italian is – centuries of high food culture. For another, Australia has migrants from other European nations whose cuisines barely rated a mention such as Greek, Polish, German, Slavic, etc. and none were traditional British. And anything that was in any way a hybrid of cuisines was labelled as Modern Australian, including the 3 hatted Momofuku Seiobo that specialised in Caribbean fare (albeit with native Australian ingredients). One place I are at recently is called Italian by the guide, but the dishes were more Japanese in flavours and presentation than anything recognisably Italian.

      The point the authors wanted to make was that good food is relative to culture, and many non-white cultures don’t serve “high” cuisine because they are made for the masses. The whole reason to condemn French and Italian (and ignore Japanese) was because those cuisines aspired to be something more making other cuisines seem inferior by not adhering to the standard.

      Honestly the article muddied the water by trying to make it about racism instead of about the question of what constitutes being good. There’s a point to be made about whether a particular kind of dining where there’s a focus on quality of ingredients, cooking techniques, dinner experience, wine lists, etc. should be called “good” food, but it’s made silly by trying to tie it to racism and exclusion of non-European food.

    2. You can’t have food culture mattering for some and not others.

      Sure you can. This is the woke principle of “it’s okay to fruit punch up, but not fruit punch down.”

      1. What’s that expression: “when in Rome, do according to your inverse relative cultural supremacy”?

  20. THAT — my friends – has to be the most off the wall bonkers thing I have read in QUITE A WHILE.
    Even here!
    Wonderful find, professor, frame-able on any mental hospital wall.
    D.A.
    NYC
    (currently munching on some nice Camembert. Because I’m a Nazi, see….)

  21. This article purports to identify a form of French food Whiteness

    Whoever wrote the abstract clearly thought the paper was complete tosh.

    Also, if I was trying to argue a point about modern culture and the only evidence I could find was from 1919, I would not mention said evidence and I would resort to handwaving and bluster in the hope that nobody notices. I think that would bring less attention to the emptiness of my claim than citing examples from 102 years ago.

    Not that it matters. The French can set whatever rules they like for joining their club. And I’m not aware of any intrinsic attribute of Africans that makes it impossible for them to eat and enjoy French cuisine.

  22. There is a video on YouTube linked below covering the first Curry recipie published in England (1747). The person who wrote the recipe got it wrong, probably because they got the details from those who were eating it, rather than someone who saw it cooked. However the point the person who made the video is trying to make is that recipes (and foods) tend to travel around.

  23. I make delicious curries with French vadouvan curry powder. What does that make white American-Canuck?

  24. Isn’t what Matilde is doing a way of -ism as well? I mean – shouldn’t she just stick to her own culture, rather than judge other cultures/countries/etc?

  25. Just returned from a quick trip to Paris. I ate Chinese dim sum, Tonkin phở, Japanese ramen, bought tortillas and hot sauce from a Brazilian woman in a Mexican market, bought two bunches of Thai basil from a Pakistani couple in front of a Metro station and finished off the weekend with a falafel (Jewish not Lebanese). Didn’t have to eat a single morsel of that racist French stuff.

  26. The only thing i have to say is that couscous is not only algerian, it also comes from morrocco and tunis. Apart from that, wtf is this girl thinking, i’m french and i’ve never seen any non french people not liking french food.. I mean it’s a bit like japanese or chinese food

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