For some time now, I have noticed a lot of comments on various Facebook groups about the fact that the French are so behind with Veganism and animal rights. The French are « un-evolved », « they don’t get Veganism », « they don’t give a damn about animals », « shame on them » and on and on. Yes I’ve seen these comments. In many ways, it is true that Veganism, from an ethical point of view, is, compared to the United States, probably about 20 years behind in its growth.
So I’d like to come out of the French closet for once and set certain things straight (and I’m ready for the inevitable backlash). First of all, yes indeed Veganism is not as wide-spread in France but so is Factory Farming, junk food, McDonalds, GMOs, etc… Maybe I just want to ask my American friends to have a little bit of perspective and be maybe a little less critical of what the French are doing as much as I have, so far, not been too critical of the American system.
But frankly, there are things to say: First of all, until recently, we have resisted America’s imperialistic imposition of values on us by, for instance, resisting Factory Farming (thanks to our politicians who love to imitate the American example) and GMOs (both widely pushed forcefully on us by American trade deals with Europe and US corporations like McDonalds, Monsanto and others). But we still resist. Many years ago, the French farmer José Bové (famous here for being an anti-globalization activist) destroyed a McDonald « restaurant » with his tractor in protest of America’s imperialistic junk food cartel and he ended up going to the Seattle protest in 1999 as a hero of small farmers everywhere. And some people occasionally burn down GMO fields as well in protest.
Also, if things are so bad and we are so behind, as a lot of Americans say, how come you can count on your fingers the number of obese people you will see in a lifetime here and if you find any, they are usually American tourists? Unfortunately, this is also rising thanks to the invasion of American fast foods.
As a journalist for The Observer remarked,
[t]he Americanisation of our bodies once meant importing the concept of the gym, a religious ritual of bodybuilding and aerobics among machinery and wall-to-wall mirrors; […]Today, especially outside the metropolitan areas, the Americanisation of our bodies means obesity (Odone 27).
In the US, I saw more obese people in one day than in all my life in France (two so far!).
In Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser remarks that “on any given day in the United States about one-quarter of the adult population visits a fast food restaurant”. A critic for the New Yorker complained that “we’ve become an eat-on-the-run, absent-mindedly feeding, cup-holder culture” .
How come in France, we have (for the most part) GMO labeling and some GMOs are banned in most of Europe while America has become a scientific experiment for Monsanto since 1995 when the first GMO tomatos appeared on the market? How come, if we are so behind again, we eat less meat than Americans do per capita and we have not only always had farmers’ markets full of fruits and vegetables all over the country but also now more and more INDEPENDENT 100% organic stores popping up everywhere (with lots of vegan foods in them, not just whole foods). Compare this to the (still) handfull of farmers’ markets in America (particularly in segregated poor neighborhoods) and the fact that Whole Foods Supermarket or as I call it « The Wall-Mart of the natural food market » sells so-called high priced organic and non-organic « natural » foods which sometimes contain GMOs and pretty much bought up most of all the independent organic stores in the United States.
We also have a 100% vegan store, « Un Monde Végan », in Paris, America has… well one (correct me if I’m wrong): « Viva La Vegan Grocery » (owned by friends of mine) and the rest is online (like here) and it’s a much bigger country (France is no bigger than California). We also have a good list of online vegan stores as well. And let’s not forget that we pioneered the Veggie Pride and the Paris Vegan Day (which is actually more than one day). Both started in France of all places! And we gave you the Statue of Liberty, so we can’t be that bad (ok, I’m being cynical even though it’s true).
Let me be clear. I have lived in America for 18 years and I loved it. But I also have the perspective to see what is wrong either here or there. I’m also politically aware. In an evolved country, you don’t have endless wars in the Middle-East (for oil – thanks George W. Bush and President Obama) which kill/displace millions of people (who end up seeking asylum in Europe – thanks a lot!). An evolved country doesn’t keep spreading factory farms and, as everything is connected, doesn’t have a mass incarceration system (the largest in the world with mostly non-violent drug offenders) for its most vulnerable citizens and a racist police which kills black people in front of someone’s phone with impunity (see the Eric Garner‘s case among many others). It also doesn’t have a medical system which dumps its poor people on Skid Row because they can’t pay their medical bills (see Sicko by Michael Moore or I could relate what I saw with my own eyes).
How come being poor is being criminalized in the US and people can get arrested for giving food to the homeless like this 90 year old American who go arrested several times, while here we have something called « The Restaurants du Coeur » (The Restaurants of the Heart) started by the French comedian Coluche which has served free meals to the poor for 30 years and by the way, we have activists from Food Not Bombs (a good US import this time) who also give free vegan meals to the homeless. People can grow their own food gardens while some Americans are not allowed to. We also don’t have a war on womens’ reproductive rights (as I’ve seen in the case of Purvi Patel recently), and a ridiculous love affair with guns and religious bigotry as well as politicians who believe that evolution is a myth and that God created the Earth 5,000 years ago (see the recent Republican nominees for the Presidential election).
So who’s to say what « evolved » means?
France may not have moved much about Veganism but we are not obese, we eat a lot less animals and yes we have a thriving animal rights movement and environmental movement. Sea Shepherd France is the 3rd biggest branch of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society in the world and Captain Paul Watson can tell you why. L214 has been praised for its efforts to raise awareness for its undercover footage of farmed animals and is now, just like in America, also facing bans and fines on undercover filming. Well if the Americans do it, our own agribusiness cartels are going to follow, right? The French Vegetarian Society (not yet called vegan because most people don’t understand the word yet here) promotes vegan dietary recommendations and all their recipes are vegan and they, in fact, want not only abolition but provide necessary nutritional information because a 100 % plant-based diet is still ridiculed over here. We also have a Vegan Society and an Abolitionist Vegan Society. My friends from FUDA (Forces Unies pour les Droits des Animaux – United Forces for Animal Rights) and I regularly have vegan challenges on the streets and we have a fantastic communication with people. So it’s not that the French are not interested in Veganism, what I found out is that they in fact are (I have never been so busy as a vegan lifestyle coach!) but that they lack information. So we’re growing more and more each year as we get less marginalized and get on TV.
NO COUNTRY is perfect. We have bullfighting and foix-gras (which we fight and try to abolish constantly legally and on the field), you have rodeos and more testing on animals in laboratories than we do. We have our corrupt politicians (who now also follow George W. Bush’ and Barrack Obama’s examples on Foreign policies), you have yours. You have Fox News and other corporate owned medias, we have our mainstream media which fortunately still allows real debates to happen on many issues and we do in fact have debates on our food habits (most notably about the environment which seems to be what touches people the most here). Try to find this on Fox News and other corporate owned outlets in America. Even Democracy Now!, which is supposed to be independent, is only now talking about Cowspiracy but, otherwise, never wants to bring up the subject of animal agriculture as the biggest contributor to climate change. This is not the case here. We in fact talk about it. And, for the record, Cowspiracy is also being showed more and more all over the country here. Therefore we’re not against « good » US examples.
America has one vegan school as far as I know (thanks to James Cameron), France has adopted vegan alternatives in many schools in the country. I recently managed to get the city of Montpellier to adopt vegan menus as alternatives in schools. Yes, it’s not 100% vegan but it’s a beginning.
So instead of continuing to compare notes between both countries, I’ll stop there. But this is a fact that there is a need for evolution all over the world. And that calling one country less evolved than another also requires the perspective and the chance to have experienced something other than one’s own country only. Europeans travel far more than Americans to other countries (but maybe it’s also because we have long paid vacations and unlimited sick days).
Veganism is something that is growing everywhere, at various speed. It is also growing in France because we are getting invaded by the industrial American model and the French hate it. I could criticize other countries for being even slower than France. It requires a major shift in consciousness for all. But to say that one country is less evolved based on just its apparent growth in Veganism (without knowing what is really going on) is also to ignore all the other problems like human rights violations and ecocide which are also all connected.
Vegans are one community and this doesn’t depend on where they’re from, it depends on their capacity to make, as Will Tuttle once said, some « rather obvious connections ».
– Factory farming is on the rise in France, union says. France 24 (in English)
– Restrictions on Genetically Modified Organisms: Library of Congress
– France Stands Up to Monsanto, Bans Seed Giant’s GMO Corn – EcoWatch
– Who is José Bové? Wikipedia.org
– José Bové not welcome in Bush’s America: The Nation Magazine
– GMO Crop Sabotage on the Rise: French citizens destroy trial vineyard – Food Freedom blog
– Reading American Fat in France : Obesity and Food Culture – European Journal of American Studies
– French Food Companies Can Use ‘GMO Free’ Labels, Government Says – Bloomberg Business
– The Failure of the first GM foods – Ghorganics.com
– Meat consumption per capita – The Guardian
– The Markets of France: about Farmers’ Markets in France – About France
– Whole Foods caught in GMO marketing deception, false advertising – here’s the proof – Natural News
– Whole Foods: The False Face of Humane Farming – Investigators Find “Certified Humane” Cruelty to Chickens – United Poultry Concerns
– Is Whole Foods Wholesome? – Slate Magazine
– Resources to visit France as vegans: Véganisme.fr
– Why Mass Incarceration Defines Us As a Society – Smithsonian Institute
– Sicko by Michael Moore (with spanish subtitles) on the US Health Care system as compared to other countries like France.
– How America turned poverty into a crime – Salon.com
– Police Arrest 90-Year-Old and Two Pastors for Feeding Homeless People – Nation of Change
– Goldman & Coluche – Les Restos Du Coeur – The song that launched the « Restaurants of the Heart »
– Who is Coluche? Wikipedia (English)
– Food Not Bombs in France. http://www.foodnotbombs.net/FRANCE.html
– Personal Gardening and Farming Are Becoming Illegal – The Guardian
– Proof of the GOP War on Women – Politicus USA
– 20 Years in Prison for Miscarrying? The Case of Purvi Patel & the Criminalization of Pregnancy – Democracy Now!
– A bit of humor: Bill Maher on Jesus Christ the Republican Candidate
– More humor: Real Time – Bill Maher Educates The Tea Party On The Founding Fathers.
– Even more humor: Bill Maher on France and Bill Maher – America Isn’t #1 and also Bill Maher : most Americans are Dumb and Uneducated
– Republican Candidates Don’t Believe in Evolution – Blissfullknowledge YouTube
– Captain Paul Watson in Montpellier (France). My own video on YouTube
– Cowspiracy finally talked about on Democracy Now!
Photos: 1. Défi FUDA (Try vegan for 10 days) – 2. Anti-Bullfighting protest in Arles
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