Casaubon's Book

Even in France…

Fast food sales now outnumber sit-down restaurant food sales in the home of gastronomy:

More than half of all French restaurant sales now take place, sacrilegiously, at fast food chains, according to a new survey by food consultancy firm Gira Conseil.

This is the first time fast food sales have surpassed sit-down restaurant sales in France —  you know, the the country that gave us cafes, bistros and the Michelin star. It also makes France the world’s second-biggest consumer of fast food, NPR reports, with 1,200 McDonalds franchises alone.

That number is only growing (much, it must be said, like French waistlines): Consumption at casual eateries jumped 14 percent just in the past year, according to the survey, and companies such as Subway and Burger King have launched major expansions in the country.

The fact that fast and cheap outrank, in economically insecure times, expensive and slow is not, perhaps as shocking as it might seem, even if it is sad.  The real problem is that there is so little GOOD fast and cheap out there (although some of the fast-food sales are surely creperies and such) in most developed world regions.

In most of the Global South, McDonalds certainly has a presence, but so do tons of independent street food dealers who can often offer better prices than the industrial giants because of a lack of supervision.  Now there are risks to this approach, of food borne-illness, but there are also rewards.  Some of the most amazing food in the world is produced by street vendors with the simplest possible equipment – a charcoal grill, a few pots and pans.  Again, small scale and local CAN compete, if we can design and enforce (and we could if we wanted to) food safety regulations for very small producers working on the home scale, rather than taking industrial regulations and applying them to everyone from McDonalds to your Mom with her pies.

The world needs fast, inexpensive food.  What we don’t remember, though, is that it doesn’t have to suck.



  1. #1 Eric Lund
    May 6, 2013

    What we don’t remember, though, is that it doesn’t have to suck.

    I am fortunate to live in a university town that the big fast food chains have mostly forsaken. The only national chain with a presence in this town is Domino’s (we used to have a Burger King, but it didn’t bring in enough revenue during summers and term breaks). But we do have several locally owned, modestly priced (not exactly cheap, but meal prices are comparable to McDonald’s et al.) fast food outlets, some of which serve food that has actual flavor (including at least two pizza places with better product than Domino’s). Thus I have all the more reason to avoid McDonald’s et al.: I routinely encounter fast food that doesn’t suck.

  2. #2 aimee
    oaxaca, Mexico
    May 7, 2013

    having just spent a year in a relatively poor city in the global south (Oaxaca, Mexico), I can testify to the abundance of good, cheap street food. There is also a lot of crappy cheap street food, like industrial hot dogs and lots of fried dough in various forms, but there is still a lot of great food to be had.

    Some of my favorites – corn on the cob, kept hot in kettles over charcoal braziers, slathered with mayonnaise, lime juice and chile powder; tacos, of course, but there are also food carts selling consome, molotes, fresh fruit salads, fresh squeezed orange juice (juicer built right in) and, my favorite, an amazing contraption, a giant tricycle that somehow has a built on wood-fired steam chamber. It steams yams and plantains, and is outfitted with an amazing steam whistle that you can hear for blocks.

  3. #3 Jim Thomerson
    May 12, 2013

    I have not eaten fast food while in Europe, but I did notice that their prices were about the same as in the USA, while local resturant or grocery store prices were considerably higher.

  4. #4 proximity1
    May 28, 2013

    Why, “Even in France” ? France is not immune to junk-culture imports from the U.S.

    For me, NPR is (one of) the journalistic analogues to “junk food”.

    True, “McDo” has a very big presence in France. Since its inception in France, it has benefited from exclusive dispensations (it got them by arm-twisting, though how much “twisting” it had to do is another matter; corruption and kick-backs for favoritism aren’t exactly unknown in France) from the state–mainly in the form of tax advantages for carry-out food which McDo’s competitors don’t enjoy.

    True, French people have become more sedentary, more overwieght. They’ve taken up the habits in eating that goes with this.

    True– dining time is in certain places way down (esp. since the recession/depression) at lunch and people’s once-larger lunch-hours have been reduced either formally or informally–through employees’ self-imposed reductions out of fear of finding themselves penalized when compared to peers who take less time at lunch. So, it’s a vicious circle, driven by insecurity, which, in the rececssion, is abundant.

    However, “Fast-food” in France means _mainly_ McDo-like burger joints is not true.

    While there are lots of McDonalds, there are even more independent bakeries and probably the great majority of French people (who eat fast-food at lunch because they haven’t time to order and eat a hot lunch served at a table) do that by going to a nearby bakery and buying “la formule”–a ready-made sandwich (typically on some sort of fresh-baked bagette), a canned drink (though very often, bottled water), and a dessert, which usually means some sort of pastry, also made fresh at the bakery. Of course, lots of people also go into larger supermarkets for the same things just described. Those are grocery stores such as Monoprix or Carrefour where similar kinds of lunch fare is on offer.

    For photo images of what I mean, you can search Google’s “images” using the key terms:

    “sandwiches aux boulangeries”

    For an idea of where the one or two percent goes for lunch, try Google’s image bank with these key-terms:

    ” restaurants gastronomiques déjeuner france ”

    True– all that is worst about U.S. culture, the solely-price-driven, race-to-the-bottom, lowest-common-denominator stuff, (and, for that reason, quite predatory in character) insinuates itself everywhere, “even in France.”

    There is very little ‘push-cart’ style ‘street vendor’ food in France. The closest approximation is perhaps the stands which can be found in market squares in small towns and villages on market-days of the week. In a large city, what exists of street vendor food isn’t very good in quality or in range of choice. There is little reason for such a secto since bakeries provide sandwich fare which precludes a need for street vendors.

    The two main other very ubiquitous alternatives to burger joints à la McDo are 1) the oriental carry-out restaurant. Fast, only passable to very mediocre in quality, and, while relatively “cheap”, it’ expensive for what you are served, and, 2) the “gyros” (Turkish or Greek style) kebab & pita lamb rotisserie sandwich & fries —likewise only passable to very mediocre in quality, and, while relatively “cheap”, it’ expensive for what you are served.

  5. #5 proximity1
    May 28, 2013


    “But American chains like McDonald’s and Subway also attract French fans for the ways in which they depart from local customs — at least when it comes to wait staff, says Labro.”

    “French waiters, she says, tend to be “so mean and unserviceable that the American way of doing things in fast food places is almost pleasant.”

    Hello ?

    Silly hyperbole. While I virtually never–“Never? Well, hardly ever, ever”– set foot inside a McDo, I do sometimes go to Subways, which in general I like. But the quality of “service”–it’s a food-counter line, for crying out loud!– is no better than what I typically find from a bistro/café waiter.

    Café waiters who are rude don’t necessarily pick out or pick on foreigners–whether American or other; they can be just as rude to their fellow French man or woman. Does this surprise you?

    There is, however, one signal cultural difference that too many Americans are perhaps simply unaware of: in France, it is regarded as extremely rude to fail to say “Hello” before going on to speak to any stranger, including a waiter in a bar, a café, a restaurant, etc. And waiters expect a “hello” from any client –wherever he or she may come from. But, in U.S. culture, this simply isn’t the common practice. So, right off the bat, a U.S. customer can involuntarily begin every encounter by “being rude”: i.e., failing to start with the minimum in daily French courtesy, which consists entirely of saying, “Bonjour.” (Hello).

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