Feeding Paris - why the city needs to adopt the 'fairer' diet

Like all great cities, Paris has the power to draw in food and resources from all corners of the Earth. And with every meal, this food-lovers' paradise unwittingly sketches the fate of its countryside and seashores, near and far.

It is a city to be explored on an appetite. A buttery crepe at the foot of the Eiffel tower. A picnic on the Pont des Arts, or along the banks of the Canal Saint-Martin. A grizzly winter’s afternoon whiled away on the crowded terrace of a left bank café. Against a backdrop of iconic monuments and museums, it is for the promise of good wine, crusty baguettes, warm croissants, sunday food markets and other epicurean delights that millions are lured to Paris every year. For Doisneau may have made the kiss an icon of the city’s pull. But food lovers would argue that his collection of photographs of life at the former Les Halles food market are more quintessentially Paris.


With a greater population of 12 million, and scores of hungry visitors, feeding the city is a colossal affair. There are here, about 11 boulangeries to the square kilometer, 82 farmer's markets and more than 10,000 restaurants across the city. Food is omnipresent in Paris as in any of the world's great cities. But with the exception of supermarkets that work with their own centralised purchasing establishments, most of the food that enters the city comes through a single gateway -- the marché de Rungis -- the world’s largest food market.

At the crack of dawn the market comes alive, and one gets a sense of the invisible hand that feeds the city. Of it's sheer scale and sophistication. Of its seeming infallibility. For whatever the Gods have in store for the country's farmers at any given time - droughts, flooding, epidemics - there's a feeling here that this place would emerge untouched.

There are nearly 1,200 wholesalers operating at the market, and through countless specialty pavilions spread over 232 hectares, they help funnel about 1.5 million tons of food to Paris every year. Rent is paid by these entrepreneurs - not by the square meter - but by the number of service doors at their disposal. A reminder that the nature of this business is not to stockpile merchandise, but round it up and re-dispatch it as swiftly as possible. At 2pm, after the morning rush, in a vast airy building among large crates of sweet smelling produce, a few men remain to tidy up. In solitude they prepare for the next day.

Article continues at ENN affiliate, Ecologist

Paris Cafe image via Shutterstock