Bonjour à tous! It is a beautiful day in Nantes aujourd'hui, and the sun is finally out after what feels like a month and a half of rain. It is hard to be indoors studying for midterms when there is such a beautiful blue sky right out the giant french doors, but I've been walking the thirty minutes to school every morning which keeps me from getting too restless. It's bizarre to think we've been here almost two months already, and to have MIDTERMS to study for- I feel like I've just started with all of my classes, but we're almost halfway done! At the same time, I have the sense of knowing some people for much longer than the month and a half we've spent together, and it's funny to see how we've picked up the little mannerisms of our host families almost unconsciously. There have been so many experiences that have impacted me as well, probably more than I can tell right now, and I feel so fortunate to be learning from and living this adventure with friends, professors, and my homestay family here.
As expected, the food here so far has been absolutely incredible. In my Gastronomy course, we have learned about the history of French food and meal structure, the different types of wine in different regions of France, and taken several visits to local stores and markets to see the production of different types of local cuisine. Most recently, we traveled to Bordeaux to sample goat cheese, canelés (a traditional pastry), and of course several different types of wine. One of the most interesting things to me was the cheese farm, which had over 200 goats as well as the machinery to produce several different types of cheese. These were not your average 'goat cheese-making robots', as the owner explained to us, but rather original designs he had produced specifically for his farm and which had been crafted only for him. Therefore, there was no other cheese in the world which was produced in this way, and this farms use of technology was completely unique. It was also by far the best cheese I have ever tasted in my life, and our 'tasting' involved eight different types of cheese aged over different lengths of time so we really got the full range of flavors (even if we had to eat them all two or three times to make sure we really got it). It was nice to see the value placed on farming here, as it feels as though it is looked down upon, minimalized, or obliterated in the highly industrial food system of the US. While it is a struggle for my neighbors back home to make a living farming, it seems as though (from my very limited perspective) the value placed on quality and local food in France helps support the small farms and farmers, giving them the agency and credit they deserve for the immense amount of work and knowledge that goes into their profession.
Other notable food-related moments have been a visit to a local boulangerie (bakery) where the master baker is one of three in Nantes to have earned a special collar, received by only five people in France per year, which signifies that he can make some pretty incredible bread. Despite an intolerance to gluten that usually keeps me from eating bread or wheat products, I couldn't resist the hot pain au chocolat he pulled straight from the oven. The hard part about being in France is that the excuse 'I just need to try this once' applies to 90% of bakery products, and I've spent a lot of time dealing with the aftermath of taste buds that are far too adventurous for the rest of my body. Luckily, I have an amazing host mom who finds fresh gluten-free bread from our local boulangerie, and there is always the option to swap out a traditional crêpe in almost any crêperie for a galette made of buckwheat. While I do miss the experience of picking up a pastry on the way to school or ducking into a bakery for a freshly-baked baguette at lunchtime, there are always options that I can take advantage of, and I'm lucky to have friends who don't mind hunting down another option or waiting for me while I look up menus in the library. My Gastromy professor, in particular, has been incredibly accommodating, buying macarons to replace my inability to try the canelés or double-checking everything he brings for us to taste during class. The more grievous crime is my tendency to hop back into English during class; in his words last week, "sans gluten okay, mais en français!"
While I've definitely experienced my fair share of romanticized french eating experiences, it is a stark contrast to walk past dozens of people begging for lunch on my way to learn about the proper order of the stages of a French meal and to know that, as in the US, there are many more who less visibly struggle for food security every day. This is not unique to Nantes, but it does seem more prevalent here than in my small state and is a constant reminder of my privilege in being able to enjoy food as a source of nourishment, knowledge, and adventure without stress and anxiety, something I am thankful for every day. Food and food systems, a topic I've always been interested in, can be at the same time such a visible sign of the inequalities in society, and it feels important to mention that this, too, is the realities of 'french food' in and among the Michelin stars and extravagant vineyards we've been seeing.
So there you go! I've attached several photos of some of the more wonderful/bizarre foods we've eaten here. Some are less traditional than others (i.e. 'the original French taco'), but in general I would say they all share the same qualities of heavy cheese, light spices, and attention to detail that food here has become so well known for. Excited, enthusiaste, and hungrily awaiting the months ahead!
More Blogs From This Author
<p class="MsoBodyText" style="margin-top:2.35pt; margin-right:23.95pt; margin-bottom:.0001pt; margin-left:5.0pt"><span style="line-height:115%">I am currently a junior at Tufts University studying Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Computer Science, and Food Systems and Nutrition. When not at Tufts, I am either at home in Vermont, hiking in the Adirondack mountains, or searching for a good gluten-free bagel. I also enjoy skiing, making smoothies out of pretty much anything, climbing, and reading in the back of used book stores.</span></p>