France has chosen the baguette as a candidate for UNESCO’s intangible cultural heritage status, the government said on Friday, seeking recognition for the most significant of French symbols.
While berets and strings of garlic around the neck may be more stereotypical than the reality these days, one still sees long loaves of bread daily under the arms all over France.
According to the data site Planetoscope, about 10 billion baguettes are consumed every year in France – about 320 per second.
When France was in its strictest lockdown for the pandemic last spring, it made sure to keep the bakeries open as an important deal.
So perhaps the only surprise is how long it has taken for the Ministry of Culture to hand over the baguette for consideration to UNESCO, which will announce its decision by the end of 2022.
In a statement as dry as flour on a baker’s table, it said: “The inscription of this element would allow the appreciation that this food practice, which is part of daily life, shared by the vast majority and taken for granted, is a legacy in itself. . “
However, the ministry noted the steady decline in the number of boulangeries around the country, especially in rural areas.
“In 1970, there were 55,000 artisanal bakeries (one for every 790 inhabitants) compared to 35,000 today (one for every 2,000), often in favor of industrially manufactured baguettes,” it said.
Although it was a seemingly immortal fixture in French life, the baguette first officially got its name in 1920 when a new law stated its minimum weight (80 grams) and maximum length (40 centimeters).
The rest of the story is pretty uncertain.
Some say that long loaves were already common in the 18th century; others that it took the introduction of steam ovens by the Austrian baker August Zang in the 1830s in order for the modern incarnation to take shape.
A popular story is that Napoleon ordered that bread be made into thin sticks that could be more easily carried by soldiers.
Another links baguettes to the construction of the Paris Metro in the late 19th century, and the idea that baguettes were easier to tear up and split, avoiding arguments between workers and the need for knives.
UNESCO grants the status of intangible heritage, which must involve a specific community of practitioners, about 100 very different things around the world each year.
This year’s list included sauna culture in Finland, a lantern festival in South Korea and a lawn mowing competition in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
France chose the baguette from a shortlist that also included Paris’ iconic rooftops and the Biou d’Arbois Harvest Festival in the Jura department.