France submits the baguette to UNESCO heritage status

France submits the baguette to UNESCO heritage status

France has chosen the baguette as a candidate for UNESCO intangible cultural heritage status, the government said on Friday, seeking to have this most representative French symbol recognized.
While berets and garlic strings around their necks might be more stereotypical than the reality these days, long loaves of bread are still seen daily underarms across France.

According to the Planetoscope data site, some 10 billion baguettes are consumed each year in France – around 320 per second.

When France was in its tightest lockdown from the pandemic last spring, it made sure to keep bakeries open as a core business.

So perhaps the only surprise is the time it took for the Ministry of Culture to submit the baguette to UNESCO, which will deliver its decision at the end of 2022.

In a statement as dry as flour on a baker’s table, he said: “The inscription of this element would make it possible to appreciate that this eating practice, which is part of daily life, shared by the vast majority and taken for acquired, constitutes a heritage in its own right.

A popular tale is that Napoleon ordered the bread to be made into thin sticks that could be more easily carried by soldiers.

However, the ministry drew attention to the steady decline in the number of bakeries across the country, especially in rural areas.

“In 1970, there were 55,000 artisan bakeries (one for 790 inhabitants) against 35,000 today (one for 2,000), often in favor of industrially produced baguettes”, he explains.

Uncertain history

The baguette, although apparently immortal in French life, did not officially get its name until 1920 when a new law specified its minimum weight (80 grams) and maximum length (40 centimeters).

The rest of the story is rather uncertain.

A woman walking in a street in Paris carries French bread and sticks in December 1945. Photo: AFP

Some say that long loaves were already common in the 18th century; others that it took the introduction of steam ovens by Austrian baker August Zang in the 1830s for its modern incarnation to take shape.

A popular tale is that Napoleon ordered the bread to be made into thin sticks that could be more easily carried by soldiers.

Another connects baguettes to the construction of the Paris metro in the late 19th century and the idea that baguettes were easier to tear and share, avoiding arguments between workers and the need for knives.

UNESCO confers the status of intangible heritage, which must involve a specific community of practitioners, on hundreds of 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 grass mowing competition in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

France selected the baguette from a shortlist that also included the iconic Parisian rooftops and the Biou d’Arbois harvest festival in the Jura department.

Women lined up in front of a delicatessen in January 1945 in a Parisian suburb, while supplies to the capital were still difficult. Photo: AFP
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