The jambon-beurre, the most-consumed sandwich in France.
Is it good?
It’s the absolute staple of French sandwich cuisine, available everywhere and like most simple things, truly delicious.
A true jambon-buerre is a fresh-baked baguette, thickly spread with butter, filled with good ham with a few sliced cornichons (pickled cucumbers) to add bite.
What’s the argument?
It’s about politics, specifically the politics of the ham sandwich. The sandwich itself doesn’t get a vote, but is it a left-wing food or a right-wing food?
Why are we asking this?
The French left-wing daily paper Libération has launched a new series called ‘battle du frigo‘ (battle of the fridge) looking at the political identities of certain foods.
They’re probably just trying to inject some interest into what has so far been a fairly dull parliamentary election campaign, but it’s undeniably true that food takes on a political importance in France.
Think back to the presidential campaign when candidates were tripping over themselves to assure voters that they loved French steak, French cheese and French wine.
So if a ham sandwich could vote, who would it vote for?
Well it seems that the experts are divided.
Here’s the argument for it being a right-wing food, from Nicolas Kayser-Bril, academic and author of Bouffes bluffantes – la veritable histoire de la nouriture: “A jambon-beurre is right-wing… with nuances.
“When we think of ham and butter, we think of the urban proletariat of the late 19th century – but at that time it would not be what the peasants in the country ate – ham was a luxury which no-one ate every day.
“The jambon-beurre is therefore a cultural construction that symbolises superiority.
“Today there is the added nuance that by eating ham in an ostentatious way, one is consciously opposed to those who do not eat it, such as vegetarians or those who do not eat it for religious reasons.”
The case for it being a left-wing food is made by Aïtor Alfonso, food critic and author.
He says: “There is a puritanism on the left where taking pleasure would be bad; the right and the extreme right, on the other hand, would be on the side of the buxom and the over-eaters. But the right does not have a monopoly on eating!
“The political project of the left is to make sure that everyone can afford a luxury dish, like meat, from time to time.
“By giving access to good things to as many people as possible, we access the project of the social left: not to confine pleasure to an elite.”
So there we have it – although if the jambon-beurre is of both the left and the right, surely it’s the appropriate lunch for centrist president Emmanuel Macron?