(This is the first of two posts written by Lora Krulak, a vegetable expert, nutritionist and recipe re-creator who is currently living in Paris.)
Paris has always been synonymous with luscious outdoor markets bursting with fresh produce, breads, cheese, flowers and local goods from around France. The question of whether something is “organic,” or “bio” as it’s known here, almost never comes up.
Often we assume that just because we’re in the land of gastronomic delights, the food we’re buying and eating is organic by nature. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.
However, the situation is rapidly changing. During the short year that I’ve been living in Paris, I’ve had the pleasure of watching the Franco-organic world bloom.
The seal used in the U.S. to designate something “organic” (USDA Certified Organic) is under government control. The European government seal for organic products is “AB,” an acronym for Agricultural Biologique and is used throughout most of Europe. The French seal or marking for local agricultural is BioCert and for cosmetics is Cosméobio.
There is speculation, as there always is with new systems like this, that once a farm receives a stamp, they slack off in adherence. Or, that if an AB farm is next to a non-AB farm, the chemicals spill over from one to the other, as the plots of land are practically on top of one another.
The organic sections and selections in the three large supermarkets, Monoprix, Franprix and Carefour, have expanded greatly. Each supermarket carries its own generic line of bio products, the produce sections have grown, and the quality of the produce itself has improved.
You do have to look closely though, as bio is fast becoming fashionable and trendy. Meaning, like in America, that just because the box is green, is written in French and one ingredient is labeled “bio,” it doesn’t mean the product is pure.
During a recent visit to the local covered market at the Marche St. Germain, my options of Organic vs. Conventional were not that favorable. Of the ten stalls, only one was certified organic and carried products with the AB label.
However, I rarely go to this AB stall except to buy chocolate, honey or fennel. I would never buy cheese from them as there are two other cheese-only stalls nearby, offering more than 75 choices of artisan cheeses from around France, with 40 of these made from raw milk – most fresh and many brought in that morning.
I’m not sure how many of these were organic but at the tiny AB stall there were only 3 cheeses, made with pasteurized milk and all wrapped in plastic.
In scrumptious situations like this one, I suppose you have to pick your battles, choose them wisely, and do as the French do.
( Lora Krulak’s next post about specific organic markets, restaurants and delivery services in Paris will appear tomorrow. You can visit her site at www.lorakrulak.com and find her on Twitter @lorakrulak )