Does it matter to you where your food comes from? Do you need to know that the meat on your plate has been ethically raised, that you are supporting local producers and that you are eating food that hasn’t travelled a great distance?
Fortunately, eating responsibly in France is not difficult. Here’s how you can do it.
Seek out the Red Label
The French labelling system is like a trademark for food and reassures you that certain strict criteria have been met in its production.
The ‘Label Rouge’ or Red Label designation is one of the most recognised signs of food quality assurance in France.
It’s a sign of distinction and applies principally to meat and meat derived products including eggs.
According to the Wikipedia entry, “The Red Label certifies that a product has a specific set of characteristics establishing a superior level to that of a similar current product”
In other words, in order to earn the Label Rouge, a product must meet certain strict criteria throughout its production chain.
Farming techniques, feed, processing and distribution are all taken into account so you can be confident that you are buying a quality product at only a slightly elevated price.
If you buy a fresh chicken that has the ‘Label Rouge’ sticker you can be sure that it has spent 90% of its life outside and that it has not been pumped full of growth hormones and antibiotics.
The meat actually tastes of something and bears no resemblance to those bland, white, plastic-wrapped, cheap excuses for meat that occupy other supermarket chiller cabinets!
Seek out the local cheeses
France is of course renowned for its cheeses. There are hundreds if not thousands of different cheeses produced all over France from cows, sheeps and goats milk and indeed various combinations of all three.
If you are on holiday in France, find out if there is a local cheesemaker or ‘Fromagerie’ that you can visit.
You may have the opportunity to discover the production process and of course to buy the cheese direct.
In the mountainous areas of France the art of cheesemaking has been handed down through the generations.
Did you know that the same cheese may change in flavour through the seasons depending on the animals’ diet?
The flavour of Pyrenees ewes’ cheese (known as ‘brebis’) that is produced in the summer when the animals are grazing rich grassy high mountain pastures is very different to that produced in winter when their diet is more grain and hay-based.
If you are enjoying a holiday in France this year, support the local producers and seek out the artisanal cheese makers in your area. You may make some delicious discoveries!
Pick your own fruit and veg
One of my favourite ways to eat responsibly in France is to seek out the local pick-your-own farms. You simply can’t beat them for freshness and quality, plus you’ll be helping to support the local economy.
Children love picking fruit and the farm owner may even turn a blind eye to your child snaffling the odd piece in return for helping you fill your crate or bag!
In September and October, look out for ‘Ceuillette de Pommes’ signs in the countryside and enjoy an hour or so of apple picking.
You will usually be required to provide your own carrier bags or trays for your fruit but at some places they are provided.
Most producers will have an organic or ‘Bio’ selection which is an assurance that no chemicals have been used in their production.
In my opinion it’s always worth paying the small extra cost for this peace of mind!
For apples, expect to pay from 0,80€ to 1,50€ per kg which represents a tremendous saving on shop prices.
Some pick your own farms such as this one on the west coast of France produce an enormous variety of fruit and vegetables throughout the growing season.
If eating local, fresh, seasonal produce is important to you then pick-your-own can’t be beaten.
Buy from the smaller producers at market
At every village market in France you will see farmer’s wives and small producers selling their produce. The fruit and veg will always have been produced locally and on a small scale.
If there is no pick-your-own farm local to you then this is the next best thing if you are wanting to eat responsibly while you are in France.
For many local folk, selling their produce at the local market is a simple way in which they can supplement their meagre farm income and they would certainly appreciate your support.
However, the right to display the AB or ‘Agriculture Biologique’ label only comes with a certain financial outlay which is beyond the means of these farming folk.
But many of them are proud to tell you that their veg is ‘naturel’ and grown according to organic principles with minimal use of chemicals
Their prices are always competitive and it’s not unusual for an extra couple of tomatoes to find their way into your bag in return for a smile and a pleasant word.
If you’re on holiday in France make the effort to eat responsibly and source fresh local produce wherever possible. Your tastebuds and the local economy will thank you for it!