The Purported Decline of French Gastronomy

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Oysters%20in%20Paris.JPGShe's Zofia Smardz, deputy travel editor of the Washington Post, whose article on indifferent meals in Paris was featured in yesterday's Seattle Times. He's Michael Steinberger, wine columnist for Slate, whose recent book, Au Revoir to All That, argues that French gastronomy is in fatal decline. Between them, you'd think France was knee-deep in crummy croissants and plastic cheese.

Steinberger is something of a hypocrite, however. For all his lamenting the state of French gastronomy, he celebrates the victory of artisanal producers of Camembert over industrial dairies; he even wrote a piece for Slate (after his book came out) acknowledging that France still makes the world's best wines. We've expressed admiration for Steinberger's wine writing in these columns; it's a pity he now views the world's changing culture with such alarm. It isn't just the French who are losing the battle against industrial food, after all. Michael Pollan's invectives against fecal spam are better researched and more convincing than a nostalgic memoir of an idealized "we'll always have Paris."

Smardz, who graduated from Vassar and holds a Master's in Journalism from UC Berkeley, apparently spent a week in the City of Light, dragging herself from one tourist trap ("well-known locales") to the next, and is shocked, shocked! that she fails to "stumble on" even one decent meal. Hint: try this at home and you'll "stumble on" the same sort of unsurprising fare. The real sin of her article is that she names no names, cites no sources, interviews neither travelers nor restaurateurs. It's pallid, pointless postcard prose, unworthy of a reader's time. If a freelance writer had submitted the piece, Smadz (one hopes) would have sent the flavorless thing back.

Is it possible to eat badly in France? Certainly. Check out Cornichon's first post from France, in fact, some five or six years ago. But all this talk of a decline in French gastronomy is really just a cover-up for the decline in the quality of food and travel writing. Enough, already.

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This page contains a single entry by Cornichon published on September 7, 2009 10:09 AM.

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