Food Policy

The High Cost of Homemade Food

A new law handcuffs restaurants in France.

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France's restaurants and French cooking are under attack. The enemy comes from within-and wears a white hat.

In July, the country debuted the fait maison law. The first of its kind, the law holds the professed purpose of promoting fresh French cooking, which has been on the wane for years. More than half of the country's restaurant revenue last year came from fast food joints and sandwich shops. One study, carried out by French catering union Synhorcat, claims nearly a third of restaurants and bistros use packaged ingredients to prepare meals. A poll performed for the industry publication L'Hotellerie Restoration last year suggests that the number is much higher.

While France's chefs still have a reputation for producing great eats, even the country's top restaurants no longer dominate the global culinary scene. Only five of the world's top 50 restaurants call France home today. That's down from 14 in 2004. Last year Bloomberg News reported that the title of "world's capital of gastronomy" had packed up and left Paris for Tokyo.

Despite all this data, nearly three quarters of the French people polled by L'Hotellerie Restoration state that they're happy with restaurant meals there.

The new law requires all restaurants throughout the country to put the word homemade-fait maison-on menus to indicate which food has been prepared from scratch. Food may be labeled as fait maison "only when it's made in-house from fresh ingredients."

That sounds simple, if costly and pointless. In fact, it's annoyingly complex. The mandate requires each menu to state that "homemade dishes are made on site from raw produce" -even those that sell no such dishes. The law further requires that restaurants serving only homemade food display either the words fait maison or the fait maison logo, which appears to have been drawn to resemble a character from South Park's Terrance and Phillip Show.

"If you see the logo next to, say, cabillaud en papillotte (cod baked in a tinfoil parcel) with carrots braisées (braised carrots), it will mean that a human being on the premises will have put the cod in the foil and braised the carrots," Stephen Clarke wrote in the Telegraph shortly after the fait maison debut.

Inspectors will attempt to enforce the law beginning later this year.

France's chefs are unhappy with the law-in some cases because they think it isn't strict enough. Most frozen foods are exempt, and so, as Clarke notes, your fait maison fish and carrots could have been frozen and the carrots even pre-sliced. The exception to the frozen-as-fresh exemption? Potatoes, lest fast food restaurants make the law seem even sillier than it is.

Besides chefs, some restaurant suppliers are deriding the law for treating sous vide-which involves cooking foods in a sealed bag in a water bath, often at low temperatures and for hours-as the gastronomic equivalent of Le Uncle Ben's boil-in-bag rice. Under the law, neither is considered homemade.

Other critics contend that France's mandatory 35-hour workweek and high labor costs-rather than the provenance of restaurant ingredients-are the reasons the country's restaurants are in decline.

Supporters of the fait maison law claim it will have several benefits. They say, for example, that the law will create jobs by forcing restaurants to cook more of their food from scratch. But it's more likely to have the opposite effect, at least in the short term. If consumers truly want homemade food, and if they discover that local restaurants are light on such options, they're more likely to stay at home and cook themselves. Alternately, less discriminating consumers who learn that their food isn't made from scratch might just opt to stay home and heat their own dinner in the microwave, rather than paying someone else to do it. The real winner, in either case, would be France's supermarkets.

Other supporters paint the law as a stand against fast and "industrial" food. It's "the government's way to protect diners from the many industrially prepared dishes served in most places and that are damaging the country's culinary reputation," writes the Luxemborg-based Forbes contributor Cecelia Rodriquez.

That reputation is not what it appears. In fact, it looks like much of what you think you know about French food and food attitudes is either outdated or just plain wrong.

The best analysis of the state of French cuisine I've read comes from a surprising source: Epigram, the University of Bristol's student newspaper. (But then, I've always found Ratatouille to be the most profound of French movies.) The author, Robin Cowie, attributed "the decline of France's food culture" to a combination of bad French and E.U. policies, changing tastes, globalization, immigration, the ongoing economic crisis, a lack of innovation in French cuisine, and other factors.

It is a "fear of multiculturalism and foreign cuisine that threatens French food culture more than anything else," writes Cowie. The new fait maison law will do nothing to solve that.

Baylen Linnekin is executive director of the Keep Food Legal Foundation, a nonprofit that advocates for food freedom.

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      1. Queer bonehead?

      2. Sure, let an Irishman pontificate about French cuisine.

        1. “Every time a pate de foie gras is made, a goose is rendered incapable of processing alcohol….”

          1. +1

          2. Nice.

  1. Having eaten in France and Britain and read student newspapers, I’m not sure that it’s worth paying attention to the Epigram’s opinions on French cooking.

  2. Nothing says cultural renaissance like bureaucracy and red tape.

    1. In France I think it actually does.

  3. It really doesn’t matter what it is, the cars from Detroit, the food from France, anything. If it is the product of human ingenuity, socialism will eventually destroy it.

    1. What you can’t regulate job creation and economic prosperity by regulating the shit out of a business?

  4. Maybe I’ve not had enough good French food, but I don’t really understand what all the fuss is about. Give me American, Mexican, Indian, any Asian (especially Thai), Italian, Greek/Mediterranean, and even German food before French.

    I also find it amusing that the French (elites, because I know down to earth French people) are always so obsessed with protecting French culture. What does it need protecting from? I’m not aware of anyone out to destroy the French language, food, whatever.

    1. What does it need protecting from? I’m not aware of anyone out to destroy the French language, food, whatever.

      The march of history. It’s easy to overlook, but France was culturally for hundreds of years what the USA is today. It is a common cultural phenomenon to try to recapture past glory or to hold things in stasis as a balm for societal decline. I think these sorts of things are examples of that in action, using the cultural unease to distract from the reduced state of affairs and how it came into being.

      1. Well they can always try to reinstate the House of Bourbon/Orl?ans.

        1. But, which one? Louis d’Bourbon (barred by the Treaty of Utrecht, but still the senior claimant by Salic Law) or Henri d’Orl?ans (seniormost claimant not barred by the Treaty of Utrecht)?

      2. Hundereds? Well, maybe, barely a couple centuries as dominant in science, technology, art, and philosophy, say 1650-1850. Much shorter period of dominance in military arts & organiz’n. Go back a millennium and it was similarly a target of & bulwark vs. Islamic imperialism. Never much for long in terms of religious toler’n.

        What is France gastronomically that wasn’t gotten from the Italians & Dutch?

    2. “what all the fuss is about.”

      Butter.

      1. LOL, that’s part of it, but I think part is that it’s possible to find good American, Thai, etc., restaurants that are pretty good and not expensive, but I’m not sure anybody outside of France does good French food that isn’t expensive.

  5. Maybe grocers will benefit, but I doubt it. If people wanted homemade food that badly, they would already be making it themselves. They want food that they can’t make at home, either for lack of skill or time or interest. More than likely fait maison will have no impact beyond making it harder and more expensive to operate a restaurant.

    1. “More than likely fait maison will have no impact beyond making it harder and more expensive to operate a restaurant.”

      Or harder to start a new one to compete with the old one.

      1. ^^^ This. Also “French” cooking is pretty stagnant at this point, and should die an inglorious death. Acadian/creole cooking however is alive, and well. The “Slow Food” movement in Cali depends on fresh ingredients. Something not possible in northern climes. Let us chefs grow, hunt, preserve, our ingredients, and brew our own cooking wines/vinegars, on premises, and we will give you delights you have never tasted before.
        End Rant.

    2. Beyond the expense of putting that disclaimer on the menu and then never mentioning “fait a maison” again, what’s harder or more expensive? Unless the law really means that you must label stuff “fait a maison” if it is, as well as not labeling it so if it’s not.

      1. Is there any evidence that Prop. 65, requiring damn near everything in Calif. to be labeled as cancer-causing, with signage on premises, has discouraged any biz?

        1. Robert|9.21.14 @ 5:23PM|#
          “Is there any evidence that Prop. 65, requiring damn near everything in Calif. to be labeled as cancer-causing, with signage on premises, has discouraged any biz?”

          Of course not, Robert! People just love to spend part of their advertising budget taking out worthless ads and printing worthless warnings.
          And the money to do that just comes from pixie dust, right?
          How dumb are you?

        2. Is there any evidence that Prop. 65, requiring damn near everything in Calif. to be labeled as cancer-causing, with signage on premises, has discouraged any biz?

          Cancer biz? Government/regulatory biz? Signage biz?

          Was there a surreptitious carcinogen business that the law effectively thwarted?

    3. The net effect will be that restaurant food will get slightly more expensive. Some will be happy to pay extra for home-made. Some will cook for themselves. Some will keep buying processed food regardless of the labels.

  6. OT- Woman bookmarks Quran with bacon, burns pages from it, then announces her name and address. I can’t help but admire her boldness in spite of her craziness.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=htshvId51UE

    1. I think that if she had burned the whole thing, rather than just the pages it would have been the correct way to dispose of a Koran that had been defiled. They still would execute her for the bacon part, but at least she is making an effort.

    2. Good for her. We all need to do similar. We owe it to civilization.

      1. I’m not wasting bacon!

        1. If only I had scrolled down a tad.

          1. That’s okay, here’s a Koran taco for you to try.

        2. I’m not wasting bacon!

          Mmmm… Koran-smoked bacon.

    3. She needs to be taught not to waste quality bacon.

      1. It was the great Ron Swanson the Unforgettable who taught libertarians of the sanctity of bacon.

  7. If you had to restrict yourself to the cuisine of one national culture which would it be? (America’s culinary plundering is not an acceptable answer)

    I would pick Indian.

    1. Does cousin include beer? If so than I am taking German. The food is good and no other food is better enough to justify losing German beer.

      If not, I am taking Italian all day and twice on Sunday. You can have my pasta and pizza when you take them from my cold dead hands.

    2. Amaerican. And not from chauvanism. The American culture has adopted a broad varietyy of cuisines, and while they aren’t quite what they were in their culture of oriigin, they are often damn good.

      Cajun and Frech Fusion from New Orleans, assorted versions of Chinese, Japanese, & Thai, the product of so many Little Italys, Tex-Mex (which I, doubtless at fault, prefer to genune Mexican).

      Fish from New England. Fish prepared slightly differently in San Francisco. Beef from the Great plains. Pork from Iowa.

      1. Pork from to Iowa.

        FIFY.

      2. “the product of so many Little Italys”

        I was pleased to get back to SF from Italy so we could have good Italian again.

    3. Indian would be very good for my tastes, but a more interesting question I’ve posed is, if you have a crowd of people with no allergies or food intolerances, what type of cuisine is likeliest to satisfy them? My answer’s Italian. (Huh? Looks like it’s written in English.) It may not be anyone’s 1st choice, although in a sizable bunch of people it probably will be for some, but it will be acceptable to practically all (given a suitable range of menu) and among the favorites of most. Even vegans, low-carbers, and those on sodium restriction will have fairly good options.

    4. Italian. The beer sucks but the wine is good, for what it’s worth.

    5. Agree with Indian, it’s got everything from Kabobs to Dal, so you can be a full on carnivore or a healthy vegetarian.

      1. Well, of course it’s got “everything.” “Indian” cuisine means the cuisine from a whole subcontinent. To celebrate the diversity of “Indian” cuisine is like saying there’s something for everybody in “European” cuisine.

    6. mediterranean (that way I get Italian, Greek and middle eastern)

      1. and maybe it’s not “National” currently, but at one point it was pretty much all Rome. So I feel like it counts.

      2. Not a bad choice either, I must admit.

        This would be my second choice.
        mmmmm… falafel.

    7. There’s no such thing as “French” or “Italian” or “Indian.” Provence food is totally different than Normandy, Lombardy is totally different than Sicily, Punjabi is totally different than Goan…

  8. “fresh ingredients.”

    I suppose that excludes “shit on a shingle” from the fait mason menu.

    1. They have a mask?

    2. Derpetologist|9.21.14 @ 3:48PM|#
      “OT: Climate marchers let the mask slip:”

      March
      Mobilize
      Make a drum circle!

    1. That whole video is simply amazing. Her own story growing up in her war torn hometown torn asunder by murdering Islamists was gripping.

      Did you see her address the question of “discriminating” against “peaceful, moderate Muslims?” Warning: It is not for the politically correct.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Owq8TkQ0AXA

  9. Alibaba had the biggest IPO in US history Friday.

    http://www.bloomberg.com/news/…..s-ipo.html

    BABA’s market cap is $230 billion. Bitcoin and gold are floundering again and Uncle Buck is king of the hill, Peanuts. Capitalism is alive and well so don’t crawl into your bunkers just yet.

    1. And our own ButtPlug is still the biggest loser on the intertoobs.

    2. So I can again buy a loaf of bread for $0.02 like I used to be able to do? Awesome thanks for the good news.

    3. Palin’s Buttplug|9.21.14 @ 4:16PM|#
      “Alibaba had the biggest IPO”…

      Whatever, turd.

    4. Weigel. At this point you should get ready for a steady diet of pubic hair.

  10. So what if Brigitte Gabriel speaks Arabic and grew up int the Middle East? This prog just spent 2 whole weeks in Morocco:

    http://youtu.be/WrilgYRauZY?t=10m58s

  11. 2nd report you’ve done on this & it’s still confusing. Is it illegal to not label a dish house-made if it does meet the requirements, as the article suggests, which I doubt because it’s absurd if the only idea is to assure “house-made” meets certain standards? Is it illegal for a place that serves only house-made food to not put that sign out, which the article also implies but seems absurd for the same reason?

    Anyway, assuming the reg is only to require the disclaimer universally on menus and to disallow the use of the term for dishes where the standard is not met, I might still be against it (esp. the universal menu notice) but consider it a very, very low priority to get rid of come the revolution. There’s probably a slough of things you could report on that I’d consider more deserving of att’n.

    1. I found this at The Guardian:

      All restaurants must now put the following key phrase on their menus: “Les plats ‘fait maison’ sont ?labor?s sur place ? partir de produits bruts,” (“‘Homemade dishes’ are made on site from raw produce.”) Restaurants that make everything from scratch must then display the words fait maison or the logo somewhere visible, and those that have a mix must put it next to each cooked-from-scratch dish. Those that buy everything in, and so have no fait maison dishes, still have to put the key phrase on menus to “remind their customers of the rule”.

      1. Restaurants that make everything from scratch must then display the words fait maison

        I read from the same source the 1st time HyR blogged this, but I still don’t believe what it’s saying, which is that the restaurant must claim it to be house-made if it is. Like some inspector’s going to tell them a dish qualifies, and will fine them if they don’t proclaim it?

        Because it’s not a big deal simply to avoid claims, esp. since customers are unlikely to care. If claims were mandatory, that’d be a really big burden, but silly and hard to believe that’s what’s meant.

        1. I assume it’s like all nanny laws, observed more in the breach, and only useful for making everyone a criminal so the state can lean on them at will.

  12. Well, this article is pukeworthy

    Which leads to a question: Whose Eden is this anyway? Because unless you dream of surrendering whatever device you’re using to read this story in order to spend a year sharing a toilet with 14 people, it’s not yours, or mine. The “utopia” that Fox has set up is engineered for people who distrust or resent modern civilization, who want to get away from urbanity and anything that smacks of sophistication so they can return to some imaginary first principles in which men do the building, women grow the vegetables, self-determination is paramount, and government barely exists. Fox has created a world in which outside information is a potential poison that needs to be strictly limited and in which there are no rules but the small handful that everyone agrees are essential.

    That vision isn’t designed to appeal to liberals, progressives, city-dwellers, feminists, or sexual or racial minorities, nor is it politically neutral; it’s an amalgamation of ideas espoused by elements within the conservative and libertarian movements. (Last week, the Washington Post quoted a friend of the libertarian Republican senator Rand Paul to the effect that Paul’s personal vision of utopia is basically America circa 1792 but without slavery. He’d probably enjoy this show.)

    1. The only thing more truly idiotic than the show concept itself is pseudo intellectual deconstruction of it.

  13. you dream of surrendering whatever device you’re using to read this story in order to spend a year sharing a toilet with 14 people, it’s not yours, or mine.

    I love it when other people speak for me.

    1. I’ve been telling people that that’s your opinion.

  14. Paul’s personal vision of utopia is basically America circa 1792 but without slavery.

    But who would polish his monocles?

    1. The orphan immigrant childins, Obama The Great has him covered.

      1. Heh.

  15. They say, for example, that the law will create jobs by forcing restaurants to cook more of their food from scratch.

    Peak retard has arrive.

    This is like saying that a law banning the use of food processors will create jobs by forcing restaurants to slice vegetables by hand.

    1. Zombie Milton Friedman says: “Spooooons!”

    2. These people never understand that jobs are a *cost*. Jobs are labor, labor is an input, you reduce costs by using your inputs more efficiently. Increasing the use of labor just increases your costs.

      More jobs is an easy goal to reach – eliminate the minimum wage and start cutting back on allowed automation and you’ll have full employment in no time. Cut it back far enough and you’ll even get the rid of the mythical ‘exploited employee’ as employers scramble for labor to fill their needs.

      We’ll all be poor as shit, but everyone will have a job.

      What we want is more *stuff*. If one person (or no persons) could make everything for everyone and the rest of humanity just did whatever they wanted – *that’s* the fething goal here.

      1. So let’s say that one person owned the machine that made everything. Wouldn’t that person basically be an absolute monarch?

        Second question: What happens before and after the machine goes out of patent?

        1. What if you could have the perfect society by continuously torturing one child?

          1. I’m up for it if it can be Chaz Bono.

          2. It wouldn’t be a perfect society, then, would it?

          3. I would hardly describe monocle polishing as “torture”.

            1. You haven’t had to polish *my* monocle!

        2. So let’s say that one person owned the machine that made everything. Wouldn’t that person basically be an absolute monarch?

          Second question: What happens before and after the machine goes out of patent?

          More importantly, what happens when the machine that makes everything becomes self-aware?

  16. my co-worker’s step-sister makes $62 an hour on the laptop . She has been fired from work for seven months but last month her check was $17376 just working on the laptop for a few hours. blog here…

    ???????? http://www.netjob70.com

  17. Fait Maison !!!! ???? If only the state would let us !!!!!!

    1. Set me, and guys like Chumby FREE !!!!

  18. “France’s chefs still have a reputation for producing great eats” just about sums it up.

    Next, “France’s chefs rustle them up some vitals”?

  19. Free Markets and Capitalism works best when there is the least knowledge imbalance. Businesses who want to deceive the consumers always raise the specter of ‘Cost’ to oppose any move towards better transparency.
    I for one would be willing to pay extra cost of ‘printing a new menu’, to be sure that a shop is not selling me frozen pizza crust while advertising it to be baked from fresh dough.

    1. I for one would be willing to pay extra cost of ‘printing a new menu’, to be sure that a shop is not selling me frozen pizza crust while advertising it to be baked from fresh dough.

      I’m pretty sure that would already be covered by truth-in-labelling laws, and I’m also pretty sure that France is not such a Somaliesque Wild West of anarchic free-market capitalism that they didn’t already have such laws.

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