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JUSTICE

French charities ready to hand out horsemeat

Leading food aid charities in France have declared they would be ready to hand out tonnes of recalled ready meals containing horsemeat, saying it would be "scandalous" to waste such a huge quantity of food.

French charities ready to hand out horsemeat
Volunteers from the 'Restos du coeur' ('Restaurants with heart') food charity in Paris on November 26th, 2012. Photo: Patrick Kovarik

Those keeping track of the on-going, Europe-wide horsemeat scandal, might have wondered at some point or another, what is to become of all those recalled frozen dinners.

They may soon have an answer, as some of France’s leading charities have made it clear they would be prepared to comandeer the tonnes of recalled microwave meals containing horsemeat, so they can be distributed among their poverty-stricken beneficiaries.

So far, six French supermarkets have recalled, or are planning to recall, thousands of ready-made dishes found to contain horsemeat, despite being labelled as beef.

Not wishing to see tonnes of food go to waste, three food aid charities – Restos du Coeur (‘restaurants with heart’) Secours populaire (People rescue) and Banque Alimentaire (the food bank) – are interested in getting hold of the meals and re-distributing them among the poor, as long as they posed no health risk.

The three charities met last week to try to work out a plan of action.

"Above all, these cannot be thrown out. If the meals are safe, we will take them," a branch manager from Secours Populaire told Europe 1 radio.

Philippe Le Mescam, head of the Brittany branch of 'Restos du coeur' was more vociferous, telling French regional daily Ouest France that “it would be scandalous to destroy all these tonnes of food, if tests show that they don’t pose a health risk."

The meals would also have to be re-labelled before being handed out, as their packaging wrongly suggests they only contain beef.

The supermarkets have not yet given permission to hand over the meals.

A spokeswoman for Restos du Coeur told The Local on Monday that for the moment, the charity would not be accepting the meals, saying there were many health issues to be sorted out before they could be redistributed.

For his part, director of the French federation of food banks Maurice Lony told The Local on Monday, “Our goal is to fight waste. These products are now in storage, awaiting some sort of resolution. So if they can’t be sold, we could take them and distribute them to deprived people."

However, Lony pointed out that his organization would also need health tests to be performed before handing them out, as well as gauging the appetites of food-bank users around the country, a process which he says they have already started.

“In the north of France there’s more of a culture of eating horsemeat, so people in that region are saying ‘yes’ to the meals. But in the south-west, for example, our users would be less ready to take the products,” said Lony.

When asked whether he himself would eat one of the packaged meals in question, Lony replied “Yes, I wouldn’t mind that.”

Elsewhere in the horsemeat scandal on Monday France partially renewed the sanitary licence of a meat-processing firm that was suspended after it was accused of passing off 750 tonnes of horsemeat as beef and sparking a Europe-wide food scandal.

Agriculture Minister Stephane Le Foll told AFP that Spanghero would be allowed to resume its production of minced meat, sausages and ready-to-eat meals but would not be allowed to stock frozen meats.

Spanghero's licence to handle meat was suspended last Thursday after the French government said an initial inquiry showed it had knowingly sold 750 tonnes of horsemeat mislabelled as beef over a period of six months.

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CULTURE

Le goûter: The importance of the afternoon snack in France

The French have developed an entire cultural tradition around the idea of an afternoon snack. It's called "Le goûter" and here's what you need to know about it.

Le goûter: The importance of the afternoon snack in France

With all those patisseries and viennoiseries tempting the tastebuds in high street boulangerie after boulangerie, there can be little wonder that France  – which takes food very seriously – has also invented the correct time to eat them.

Let us introduce you to the cultural tradition of le goûter – the noun of the verb “to taste”, and a cultural tradition in France dating back into the 19th century, perhaps even as far back as the Renaissance … allowing for the fact that people have snacked for centuries, whether or not it had a formal name. 

It refers to a very particular snack time, usually at around 4pm daily. This is the good news.

The bad news is that, officially, le goûter is reserved for children. This is why many schools, nurseries and holiday activity centres offer it and offices don’t. The idea is that, because the family evening meal is eaten relatively late, this mid-afternoon snack will keep les enfants from launching fridge raids, or bombarding their parents with shouts of, “j’ai faim!”.

Most adults, with their grown-up iron will-power, are expected to be able to resist temptation in the face of all that pastry, and live on their three set meals per day. Le grignotage – snacking between meals – is frowned on if you’re much older than your washing machine.

But, whisper it quietly, but just about everyone snacks (grignoter), anyway – a baguette that doesn’t have one end nibbled off in the time it takes to travel from boulanger to table isn’t a proper baguette. Besides, why should your children enjoy all the treats? 

We’re not saying ignore the nutritionists, but if you lead an active, reasonably healthy lifestyle, a bite to eat in the middle of the afternoon isn’t going to do any harm. So, if you want to join them, feel free.

What do you give for goûter 

It’s a relatively light snack – we’re not talking afternoon tea here. Think a couple of biscuits, a piece of cake, a pain au chocolat (or chocolatine, for right-thinking people in southwest France), piece of fruit, pain au lait, a croissant, yoghurt, compote, or a slice of bread slathered in Nutella.

Things might get a little more formal if friends and their children are round at the goûter hour – a pre-visit trip to the patisserie may be a good idea if you want to avoid scratching madly through the cupboards and don’t have time to create something tasty and homemade.

Not to be confused with

Une collation – adult snacking becomes socially acceptable when it’s not a snack but part of une collation served, for example, at the end of an event, or at a gathering of some kind. Expect, perhaps, a few small sandwiches with the crusts cut off, a few small pastries, coffee and water.

L’apéro – pre-dinner snacks, often featuring savoury bites such as charcuterie, olives, crisps and a few drinks, including alcoholic ones, as a warm up to the main meal event, or as part of an early evening gathering before people head off to a restaurant or home for their evening meal.

Un en-cas – this is the great adult snacking get-out. Although, in general, snacking for grown-ups is considered bad form, sometimes it has to be done. This is it. Call it un en-cas, pretend you’re too hungry to wait for the next meal, and you’ll probably get away with it.

Le goûter in action

Pour le goûter aujourd’hui, on a eu un gâteau – For snack today, we had some cake.

Veuillez fournir un goûter à votre enfant – Please provide an afternoon snack for your child.

J’ai faim ! Je peux avoir un goûter ? – I’m hungry! Can I have a snack?

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