French President Emmanuel Macron has just confirmed what we’ve all been thinking for a while now – that there’s nothing on this earth quite like a French baguette. To that end, he’s supporting a French national bakers association’s application to have baguettes listed as UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage, and we can’t say we disagree with him.
“The baguette is envied around the world,” Macron said in support of the application. “We must preserve its excellence and our expertise, and it is for this reason it should be heritage-listed.” Head of the National Confederation of Baking and Pastry Dominique Anract has similarly argued that the “marvellous” French staple should “have its rightful place” in the annals of world heritage.
“The bread is frozen, it comes sometimes from Romania, or from where I do not know. Nothing is done in the rules of art."
The Intangible Culture Heritage list in the UN’s Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation is designed to preserve items of cultural importance in the face of globalisation. Funnily enough, food items or culinary tradition are frequently added to the list: you’ll find Belgian beer culture on there, as well as Japan’s famed washoku cuisine. Just last year, Italy’s former Environment Minister Alfonso Pecoraro Scanio put forward a petition to have the art of the Neapolitan pizza included on the list; the petition was signed by more than 2 million people, and was granted UNESCO status in December.
The bid to have the French baguette listed as an item of intangible cultural heritage is a reaction against what Anract sees as the plundering of classic French baking tradition in the mass production of bread for supermarkets. “When I see the quality of bread in supermarkets, it is not possible not to be indignant,” he explains to gastronomy-focused publication Atabula. “The bread is frozen, it comes sometimes from Romania, or from where I do not know. Nothing is done in the rules of art.”
The rules of the art, it seems, are binding. Since 1933, the famous baguette has been enshrined in “the bread decree”, which stipulates that for a baguette to be a baguette de tradition, it must contain only four ingredients: flour, yeast, water and salt. Anything less (or more) and you’ve got a regular old breadstick on your hands, which simply will not do.
Presidential stamp of approval notwithstanding, the baguette’s journey through the UNESCO office could be a long one – it’s taken 8 years for the pizza application to be considered. Until it gets through, die hard baguette fans are encouraged to seek out artisanal French bakeries with gusto as a show of solidarity, and also because baguettes are delicious.