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FOOD & DRINK

French sandwich politics: What your snack choice says about you

You might think that a sandwich is just a sandwich - but in France food also has a political meaning, here's what your favourite lunch (allegedly) reveals about your politics.

French sandwich politics: What your snack choice says about you
Photo by LOIC VENANCE / AFP

What?

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.

READ ALSO Steak, wine or couscous – which foods really represent French identity in 2022?

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?

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POLITICS

Why a French minister’s Paris apartment led to her quitting the government

A senior member of Emmanuel Macron's government has resigned after being accused of undervaluing her Paris apartment by the French financial transparency watchdog.

Why a French minister's Paris apartment led to her quitting the government

The minister for relations with local authorities, Caroline Cayeux, has resigned after the France’s “high authority for transparency in public life” (HATVP) deemed that she had “undervalued” her assets in an evaluation of her wealth.

After meeting with the Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne and at the approval of President Emmanuel Macron, Cayeux’s resignation was made official on Monday. Her position will be taken over by Dominique Faure, the current Secretary of State for Rural Affairs.

In a statement on Twitter, Cayeux said that she had presented her resignation to the President and Prime Minister on Sunday.

One of Cayeux’s advisers told Le Monde that “She resigned because she was suspected of something false. After experiencing what happened in July, she did not want to go through all that again.”

Wealth declarations

French politicians including ministers and presidential candidates are required to submit information to the HATVP giving a full list of all wealth and assets held by themselves and their spouse, if they are married.

The controversy for Cayeux refers to two properties  – one Paris apartment in a Haussmanian building, 500 square metres in size and located near the Eiffel Tower at the Place de l’Alma, according to Le Courrier Picard. Cayeux shares the property with her sister, though it is 99 percent under her own name, and the sisters inherited it.

The second property, estimated to be worth at least €200,000, is a farm near Beauvais in the greater Paris region where Cayeux reportedly enjoys collecting draft horses, some of which have taken part in the famous “Route du Poisson” (a competitive horse-driving event between Boulogne-sur-Mer and Paris in northern France).

What next?

The HATVP reportedly believes that Cayeuc under-valued both properties on her declaration of wealth, although there is no suggestion that she omitted any other assets.

The watchdog has not made any further statements on the subject, and will not publish any other communications prior to Thursday, when the results of their examination into all ministers’ assets are set be published on the website.

However, Cayeux’s will not be published, as “according to the law, the declarations of a member of the government who has left office can no longer be made public by the High Authority.”

According to Le Courrier Picard, the former minister, a multimillionaire, has been among elected officials who expressed “opposition to the online publication of [ministers’] assets.”

She is also not the first of President Emmanuel Macron’s ministers to run into issues over declared wealth. Environment Minister, Agnès Pannier-Runacher has recently become the subject of a new investigation by the HATVP.

READ MORE: Explained: Why is France’s environment minister facing a probe over shares?

Pannier-Runacher allegedly did not disclose conflicts of interest regarding her children’s shares in a company created by their grandfather as an early-inheritance scheme. 

What next for Cayeaux

Cayeux, 74, was only appointed a minister in the Macron government in the summer of 2022 and at that time more than 100 public officials signed an open letter denouncing her appointment.

This was due to her vocal opposition to same-sex marriage in 2013 and previous statements saying that it would “[go] against nature”.

She made things worse for herself when she tried to defend herself by saying she had good friends among “those people” – a statement that prompted angry denunciations even from her own cabinet colleagues. 

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