- French Gastronomy and The Magic of Americanism by Rick Fantasia
By Rick Fantasia. 2018. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press. 240 pages. http://tupress.temple.edu/book/1324
French gastronomy typically calls to mind elite chefs preparing iconic classical French dishes while competing for the next Michelin star or high-status review. This enduring image of French culinary traditions has also long impacted popular culture across the years and even served as a basis for the Academy Award-winning animated film Ratatouille. Although this image is most common in France and global elite restaurants showcasing classically French-trained chefs, it is not as pervasive as it historically was. Although this model is still prevalent among the most elite and award-winning chefs in the field, similar to the narrative provided for children and families in Ratatouille, French gastronomy has not avoided the McDonaldization of cuisine. Fantasia's examination of French gastronomy highlights how French foodways are a cultural battleground as they attempt to hold strong to the traditions that made the nation's food scene famous with the emergence of Americanism that has impacted the prevalence of these culinary traditions.
Fantasia explores the shift in French gastronomy occurring in the 1980s as French youth sought out an American lifestyle through their consumption and desire for fast food, clothing, and music. Representing the epitome of American consumerism, fast food seems modern and inventive in light of the restrictive traditional French approach to cuisine. Fast food offers youth a taste of the seemingly unstructured, playful, and decidedly non-adult lifestyle they desire. Simultaneously, the United States became more entranced with European, especially French culture, offering an alternative to the fast pace, highly commercialized American culture. Despite the desire among French youth for alternative cultural expressions, the business model behind fast food offered highly rational methods for controlling labor, production methods, increasing profits, and tapping into the suburban market that relied on quick food options that could be obtained without leaving their car.
French gastronomy, while one of the unique cultural fields related to food due to its distinctive history and institutionalized domains of labor, resources, and rewards, is not immune to the desire for symbolic capital. The restricted market of elite French restaurants historically relied on well-known chefs to embed their restaurants with the necessary charisma or "magic" needed to increase the value of their products. Despite the history of French gastronomy, the emergence of American fast food restaurants in France, offered consumers a new form of symbolic capital through the interconnection between fast food and the perception of American coolness or "magic." For example, a hamburger was seen as an exotic offering among French youth, frequenting fast food restaurants that were seen as symbolic of the American lifestyle, provided consumers with symbolic capital through their ability to access the magic of American culture.
Drawing heavily on Bourdieu's work on cultural fields, Fantasia offers an updated understanding of the cultural fields dominating French culture, specifically the flow of economic and symbolic capital between restricted French markets and open American representations of mass markets. These updated maps of the field of French gastronomy showcase not only the role of American corporations and how a hamburger can qualify as an exotic high status food, but also how elite French chefs and established culinary institutions play a role in the spread of symbolic and economic capital through mass produced food bearing the names of elite chefs similar to approaches taken by professional athletes lending their names to specific styles of shoes.
The porousness of boundaries between restricted French markets and American representations of mass markets also problematizes the desire for locally produced artisanal products, or the sense of le terroir associated with wines and cheeses, through the ability to taste the place or region where a product was created via traditional heritage processes that have been subjected to similar development through industrialization. The increasing appeal of urbanization with its higher standard of living, incomes, and experiences led to a decrease in artisanal producers during the 1980s. Today, as foodies seek out culinary products and experiences, as a source of cultural capital there...