There is much media attention to Europe’s problems with migrants and terrorists, but the thing that strikes me most strongly while visiting over the last couple weeks is that food still counts for an awful lot.
It’s been about four years since I last traveled to Europe. I came this April to Paris and Lisbon expecting to find people on edge about the turmoil stuff the media throw at us. Instead, I find both places thronging with tourists from around the world (though with a huge security presence, in Paris especially), very early in the tourist season. Oh, yes, did I mention the food?
It starts with the most basic stuff, like bread and eggs. Sandwiches are generally made on crusty rolls that are a joy to bite into. Of course, the fact that the cheeses and hams on the sandwiches are rich and full-flavored helps a lot. Eggs, no matter where you buy them, including at convenience markets, are still sold unrefrigerated and have deep yellow yolks. Even the whole milk, pasteurized, tastes full and rich, devoid of the cooked flavor often present in American milk.
Europe’s deep commitment to tradition, especially with regard to food, remains amply on display. Just try to find take-out, especially in Lisbon. A Portuguese friend explained to me that the absence of take-out stems from the fact that Portuguese food, which is heavy on fish like cod and sardines, doesn’t travel well. So the Portuguese don’t even attempt take-out, even for coffee. There’s no effort to push you out the door when you’ve finished your meal, even at busy restaurants–you’re expected to linger and enjoy the full meal experience.
Paris is more trendy, as you’d expect. Health food is getting a lot of attention in Paris, and restaurants there do promote the take-out option. I must have seen half a dozen or ten vegan-vegetarian restaurants in just walking around on the Left and Right banks, and I sampled food in three of them. A lunch of fresh lentils, green salad, and falafel in one such place was a joy. The fresh veggie juices and akai bowls in another were fresh and scrumptious. All true to French tradition, and enough to make one think that it is possible to survive and thrive on a vegan diet.
At the health food restaurant pictured above, I was curious about the use of a cow in the front window to promote a vegan-vegetarian place. “Cows give us the milk we need for delicious cheeses,” the waiter explained, to point out that dairy can be part of a vegetarian diet. No foodie ideology here.
I know, I glamorize the European food traditions. It’s not as if you don’t see burger joints (some of them big American franchises) or chips and dips taking up substantial amounts of grocery store aisle space. But I sense Europe benefits in ways too numerous to calculate from having avoided the excesses of America’s mass-production food system (Big Ag) and from having put the brakes on GMO foods.
As long as I’m glamorizing, I’ll just add that I also like the feeling I get walking around in big cities knowing that very very few are packin’.