THE “gastronomic meal of the French” has been inscribed on Unesco’s list of “intangible” world heritage.
The body describes the kind of meal it has listed as “a customary social practice for celebrating important moments”, which “brings people together for an occasion to enjoy the art of good eating and drinking”.
Not just any meal will do. It must start with an aperitif and end with liqueurs, and have at least four courses: a starter, fish and/or meat with vegetables, cheese and dessert. A host of extra elements like “the pairing of food and wine”, the “setting of a beautiful table” and even the “actions during consumption, such as smelling and tasting”, are part of the authentic experience.
According to Unesco, “individuals called gastronomes who possess deep knowledge of the tradition and preserve its memory watch over the living practice of the rites”.
The head of a body set up to champion French gastronomy’s listing bid, Jean-Robert Pitte, said “it is the fact that the meal is a profound part of French people’s identity” that makes it special. Other countries have similar traditions, but the French have a “certain marriage of foods and wines, a succession of dishes, a way of sitting down for a meal and talking about it, that is specifically French”.
Two other French practices have been included: the compagnonnage network for “on-the-job transmission of knowledge” and Alençon needle lace-making. The Mediterranean diet was also listed, described as typical of Spain, Greece, Italy and Morocco, as was traditional Mexican food and a Croatian gingerbread. This year is the first that eating traditions have joined the list.
Other traditions chosen by Unesco included Peking Opera, Chinese acupuncture, the Peruvian scissors dance and Luxembourg’s hopping procession of Echternach.
Unesco has been listing cultural practices for special protection and promotion since 2003, alongside its better-known world heritage sites, such as the Palace of Versailles or Mont Saint Michel.
Steve Lovegrove - Fotolia.com