French bakers want one of the country’s best-known breads, the baguette, to be listed as a UNESCO Cultural Treasure
Last year, the Neapolitan method for twirling pizza was added to UNESCO’s list of the world’s cultural treasures, and that was enough to convince the French national bakers’ association to launch its own petition to seek the same status for the baguette; an initiative that has recently received the presidential seal of approval. Speaking to a group of master bakers at the Elysée palace, Emmanuel Macron indeed declared “The baguette is envied around the world. We must preserve its excellence and our expertise, and it is for this reason that it should be heritage listed.”
An eccentric idea? Not so much. After all, Belgian beer, the traditional Japanese cuisine “washoku”, or the Korean way of making kimchi are already on that list, and aside maybe from the beret and the Eiffel tower, what could more French than a baguette?
But being on the list is not just symbolic. In a more pragmatic way, being recognised as an intangible heritage element helps “to mobilize international cooperation and assistance for stakeholders to undertake appropriate safeguarding measures”, according to the UNESCO website. As an important part of the daily life of all French people, the baguette is already protected by a national law enacted in 1993, which sets the criteria the traditional baguette must meet. The bread can now only be made from four ingredients (wheat flour, water, yeast and salt), cannot be frozen, and cannot contain added preservatives.
But artisan breadmakers have nonetheless voiced concerns about globalization and mass-produced imitations. There are about 32,000 bakeries across the country, down from 36,500 in 1990, and they are facing tough competition from supermarkets, which sell breads that are often cheaper and of poor quality.
The Committee for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage meets annually to evaluate nominations from around the world, so we will have to wait a few more months to see if the baguette finally makes the list. France however has already had some success in the past with 15 entries. The technique of needle lace-making, “point d’Alençon”, and the French-style equitation have already been recognized. As has the French gastronomic meal, but that submission was mostly centered around the rituals that accompany the cuisine, i.e. how wines are paired with dishes, how the table is dressed, and the precise places of glasses and cutlery.
So, fingers crossed for la baguette!