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    Half-sour cucumbers, hold the salt

    Half-sour cucumbers, hold the salt

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French reaction to food waste

Some things that rarely make it into US newspapers are considered more serious in Europe. Large-scale destruction of food, crops, livestock or arable land is one of the topics that really sets the French off, no matter what their political leanings. It’s an offense they’ve considered beyond the pale ever since Henry V invaded Normandy and Aquitaine in the 1400s. His officers and gentlemen destroyed crops and livestock wherever they went, siege or no, to the point that even their Burgundian allies wouldn’t forgive or forget.

Hence Le Figaro’s detailed account today of Moscow’s latest reaction to European and US sanctions for its invasion of Ukraine last year:

Le Figaro 8/6/15: Moscou détruit des tonnes d’aliments

The French newspaper reports that Russia’s agricultural agency has stopped merely confiscating and returning embargoed out-of-country produce to its country of origin and as of today is now destroying it outright within Russia, either at the borders with Belarus and Ukraine, or seizing it from store shelves. Tons of tomatoes, nectarines, peaches, and other produce, meats and cheeses from Poland and western European countries that have participated in sanctions against Russia are being crushed and dug under with farm equipment or else incinerated at a plant near St. Petersburg.

Given the likely hardship and isolation the Russian populace has experienced since Putin embarked on reseizing chunks of Ukrainian territory without admitting to it, you might think the best thing to do as a deterrent would be to seize the contraband and redistribute it evenly to the poorer citizens, and deny profits to the smuggler-importers. Grinding all that European-produced food under with tractors and the like may be a satisfying symbolic response for Putin, but it’s horribly wasteful and, as with the whole Ukraine project, not  a benefit to the citizens at large.

According to the article, the head of the Russian agriculture service admitted that destroying all that food doesn’t look good on TV. The country’s public media, including Tass, are portraying it pretty negatively.

He hinted that the contraband is suspect in quality as well as in political origin–some of the cargoes had been deceptively labeled as coming from Turkey or the like, but had really been produced in places like Ireland. From what I can gather, the reporter at Le Figaro wasn’t too impressed with that argument, and it’s possible that the head of the agriculture service wasn’t too happy about being ordered to destroy the food either but couldn’t say so.

And from the frequency of individual foodstuff mentions in the article, I’d say the waste of tons of peaches, nectarines, tomatoes and carrots and meat might be the greater part of the injury, but to the French, the destruction of all that fromage under tractor wheels was the final insult.

The only thing I can think is, it’s a damn good thing it’s still summer, because if the government did that in the winter, or close to winter, the public reaction might quickly become something other than merely unhappy.

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