The French Baguette Receives UN Cultural Protection—Here’s Why
The French eat 10 billion baguettes a year. Now the UN has recognized the significance of this daily staple to France and the world's culture.
What is more French than the baguette? While there are many famous types of French bread, the long, crusty loaves are a staple of life in France. The French eat an estimated 320 baguettes every second, adding up to 10 billion every year. That’s average of half a baguette per person per day, according to the Associated Press
The French Baguette Gets UNESCO Protection
Now, the French baguette has been awarded special protected status. The United Nations’ cultural body UNESCO announced that France’s “artisanal know-how and culture of baguette bread” was added to its annual list of Intangible Cultural Heritage. It took France’s cultural ministry six years to collect all the necessary documentation on the baguette to UNESCO to be considered for the award, according to CNN.
“Unlike other loaves, the baguette is made with only four ingredients (flour, water, salt and leaven and/or yeast) from which each baker obtains a unique product. Baguettes require specific knowledge and techniques: They are baked throughout the day in small batches and the outcomes vary according to the temperature and humidity,” said UNESCO in its nomination statement. “They also generate modes of consumption and social practices that differentiate them from other types of bread, such as daily visits to bakeries to purchase the loaves and specific display racks to match their long shape.”
How Important is the Baguette to France?
The bread normally costs just over 90 euro cents (just under $1), and its price is seen by many as an index on the health of the French economy.
A huge public outcry happened earlier this year, for instance, when the French supermarket chain Leclerc announced plans to sell cheap baguettes for 29 cents. The president of France’s baking and patisserie trade group, Dominique Anract, denounced the move as a “disloyal competition” and would damage the nation’s 33,000 bakeries. “If bakers have to compete with this price for baguettes, in four months, they’ll die out,” he said, according to The Connexion, a French news site.
With 400 local bakeries closing every year, the controversy spurred calls by France’s culture ministry to save them. The award by UNESCO further highlights the need to protect quality, traditional baguette making.
Who Invented the Baguette and When?
Sure, anyone can make a baguette at home, and many of us know recipes that start with a baguette. Who doesn’t love a baguette with buttery radishes, or a dipping sauce? But there is a special cultural knowledge in the place where it was invented.
According to the Associated Press, the baguette is credited to a Vienna-born baker named August Zang in 1839, who used a steam oven to produce bread with a brittle crust yet fluffy interior.
The baguette gained popularity in the 1920s, when a law was passed in France that prevented bakers from starting work before 4 a.m. Bakers could make the long, thin baguettes more quickly, and so it was a bread they could have ready in time for breakfast. That extra work is well worth it for one of our favorite French recipes.
What is UNESCO and What Is “Intangible Heritage”?
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO, was founded in 1945. UNESCO promotes world peace and security through international cooperation in education, arts, sciences and culture. One of its key programs is designating World Heritage Sites of cultural or natural importance for protection. Ancient ruins, monuments, historic buildings, as well as entire towns, wilderness areas, forests, deserts, lakes, mountains, and more have been listed. Sites in the U.S. include the Statue of Liberty, Yellowstone National Park and Independence Hall in Philadelphia.
With its list of Intangible Cultural Heritage, UNESCO celebrates and protects “traditions or living expressions inherited from our ancestors and passed on to our descendants.” Some examples of what’s protected as intangible cultural heritage includes, Spanish flamenco dancing, Chinese shadow puppetry, the violin making of Cremona, Italy, Slovakian bagpipe culture, and the Mongolian coaxing ritual for camels. In the culinary realm, Neapolitan pizza, kimchi, Belgian beer culture, the “Mediterranean diet,” and Arabic coffee are all protected.