If there is one subject that divides at the table, it is politics. And the dishes themselves can be the subject of contention. Take, just in case, the beef bourguignon: for the publisher Antonin Iommi-Amunategui (Nouriturfu), there is no way to procrastinate, “It’s a decidedly right-wing dish. Everything is said, in two words: first the beef, good food well in saucewhose breeding is known to be one of the four or five main environmental wounds. Then, Burgundy, the most traditional region in the world.” But then, what would a dish on the left look like? “With sauerkraut, of course”, answers the wine merchant Mathieu Lévy (Sémélé, Paris XIe): “It’s a cheap, vitamin C-rich, easy-to-store dish that can save entire populations from winter starvation. And then, despite the variations, we can speak of a union of sauerkraut.”
Because that is what is at stake in this dishonest and, therefore, fascinating debate: according to his very personal definition of the left or the right, the dishes are torn from one end of the the political spectrum. To continue the hostilities of this week between two turns (of the mill), let’s ask the questions that annoy. This day: is the burger right or left?
Find Monday’s battle on ham and butter, Tuesday’s on Savoyard fondue, Wednesday’s on Niçoise salad and Thursday’s on fish soup.
Nora Bouazzouni, journalist, author
“The burger is left-wing (with nuances)”
“The burger is left-wing because there is no burger tradition. It’s a sandwich, and you put whatever you want in it. It’s freedom in the recipe. It can be made brioche, gluten-free, with a legume pancake, a Portobello mushroom, with or without cheese, with an industrial or homemade sauce… It is ontologically inclusive. Not to mention the fact that you eat it with your fingers! And the bourgeoisie does not eat with their fingers. The burger is transgression, it’s street food. Walking while eating is not very well seen. In France, we don’t have a street-food tradition.
“If the ham and butter is seen as a worker dish, the burger is downright transgressive, because it has this dirty side, which we associate with junk food. But junk food is a moral label! Nothing in food is right or wrong. No food is virtuous in a system that is not. You could say that eating a quinoa pancake is better than a burger, but no: in France, quinoa is an imported food. When you buy it, women farmers in Peru can no longer afford to eat it. In a flawed system, nothing is virtuous. So let’s dissect the burger, even the most virtuous: where do the tomatoes come from? Picked up in Spain by migrants? And the cheese: how are the cows treated? And the meat? When the system is rotten, we eat rotten.
Nora Bouazzouni posted Steaksime and Faimism published by Nouriturfu.
Jean-Laurent Cassely, journalist, author
“The burger is right-wing (with nuances)”
“The burger is a product of the Americanization of lifestyles. When he arrived in France, it was via Jacques Borel’s roadside restaurants in 1968. Later (we see this in the INA archives), workers flocked to the first McDos and thought it was fun. However, this idea of eating quickly, of serving oneself, is associated with a degradation of the ritual of the French meal, like everything that comes from American consumer society. But the McDo also receives criticism from the left; just think of the dismantling of a McDo by José Bové [le 12 août 1999, ndlr] to be convinced.
“The burger is an interesting product because it is plural. We will find it at McDo, in new high-end franchises, and then in a French version with brasserie sauce. Today, there are gourmet street-food offers: we have accompanied the rise in age and purchasing power of young people, by offering them a more elitist, more respectable offer. It is a dish that has become a heritage, like the kebab or the French tacos. It’s a millennial dish. But for the generation that saw it happen, it represents junk food; it is an attack on French gastronomy in its most conservative and local form. But the old melenchonists also hate the burger: they reject the idea that all dishes can have their place in gastronomy. So there are several dimensions: the burger that has disrupted French local cuisine, but also the industrial aspect that comes as much from the reactionary right as from the sores.
“Today, it is the left that defends eating well, and that works on this tension between access, for all, to quality food. There is a contradiction between green “premiumization”, organic, short circuit, and the access of the greatest number to this type of food.
Jean-Laurent Cassely is a journalist and author. He published in 2021 at Seuil the essay France before our eyes.