(I also published this on the WorldChanging blog.)
Yes, one of the last bastions is sliding steadily into the global monoculture gutter. It's true: France gets its first drive-thru boulangerie (that's a bakery, but oh-so-much-more in French culture.)
France has adopted fast-food ideas from the United States to cater to millions of foreign tourists and its residents, but they co-exist alongside traditions such as proper sit-down meals in restaurants and daily trips to local boulangeries.
Read the rest in the APF
I used to laugh off these things as inconsequential. And I can even see a croissant-to-go as being convenient, especially for those long haul drives to the South. But a more troubling thing lurks beneath the surface of this trivial, perversely amusing anecdote. I'm starting to understand the pushback in France, and Europe in general to these kinds of influences. I'm beginning to see what's driving super-empowered angry people like Jose Bove, the infamous McDonald's-burning, anti-globalization activist, to such feverish lengths. And this is not out of any Gaullic solidarity; I have none. No, this bugs me because it smells of monoculture, and monocultures are just suboptimal and demonstrably bad. Any student of complex adaptive systems will tell you that.
Sure, the global monoculture dance is two-ways. In spice-phobic Paris, I'm grateful for regular access to sushi, tom yum gai, and a passable tika masala. I'm just worried we've gone too far at a structural level. I worry that some critical reservoirs of difference, different models for doing things, are disappearing and being leveled. I especially worry because our globalized agriculture system is increasingly brittle and fragile, as evidenced by many troubling signals and symptoms - e.g. foot & mouth, mad cow, SARS, declining soil productivity, and so on. (See my essay, "Getting into the Dirt" (Feb 2004)) If I was a betting person, I'd said future inevitable surprises, big failures and disruptions, will come from this system.
As much as it gets ridiculed, places like France have some deep wisdom we should surface, understand, and preserve: they know about the advantages of local production - the deep connections between local food, the land and communities - through thousands of years of culture. This is one of those culture-is-embedded-knowledge situations. (It's by no accident the world "culture" is derived from "cultivation.") Unfortunately, today I see these connections rapidly uncoupling thanks to a variety of drivers: demand from younger generations, EU regulations and common market pressures, and business models requiring scale, scope and aggressive growth targets.
But for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, or at least I hope that's the case. I hear that local production is getting new legs in North America. Is this true? I'm told that the farmer's market phenomenon is growing beyond the usual Californian conclaves. So this is good news. However, experts in local production say the biggest problem is making the economics and business model work, which is a stretch beyond dense urban centres. Vintage hog farmers in West Virginia are great, but if they can't make a good living out of it because of scale and distribution (how to get to market) and demand issues (consumers wary of weird kinds of pigs), this is unlikely to take off. So do people know of examples where local production is working? What are practical, high leverage solutions to balancing the forces of monoculture?Posted by nicole at August 2, 2004 08:46 PM