They Are Coming For The Neck of French Wine
It was difficult to find any non-mocking coverage of the claim made last week by University of Connecticut professor Mathilde Cohen that “French eating habits reinforced the ‘dominance’ of white people over ethnic minorities.” These mocking reactions came in response to a talk she gave in France on the subject that, in turn, was based on a paper she wrote on the subject.
Her paper, entitled “The Whiteness of French Food,” purports to “identify a form of French food Whiteness (blanchité alimentaire) encompassing the use of foods and of eating practices seen as traditionally French to reify and reinforce White supremacy” and to show “Whiteness as the dominant racial identity.”
The notion that the French use their traditional cuisine to “reify” something called “whiteness” or white supremacy is an absurd contention that can only arise when critical theory is utilized to problematize an idea in the service of tearing it down; in this case the objective glory that is French culinary history and culture. Professor Cohen’s notion of French cuisine put into the service of protecting and extending “whiteness” deserves all the mocking it got.
However, what has gone unnoticed in this affair is that Professor Cohen, in her paper on the subject, uses the French Appellation Controlee system (AOC) of classifying French wine as the number one example of how French food “reinforce whiteness” and white supremacy.
In her paper on the Whiteness of French Food, Cohen examines “four legal regimes contributing to the Whiteness of French food”: One of those is the law of geographic indicators (GI), or the appellation controller system of categorizing French wines. The other three include French laws surrounding school lunches, citizenship, and cultural heritage.
Cohen lays out her claim concerning French AOC simply:
“Geographical indications are fundamentally related to French colonialism and the racialized project of ensuring that the White majority can maintain its foodways and agricultural wealth.”
Cohen argues that the AOC system in France was developed to demonize Algerian wine (and Algerians themselves) in the wake of France’s Phyloxxera outbreak being contained, the country’s wine industry getting back on its feet, and the need for quality wine regions to hit back against the import of cheap Algerian wine that threatened the premium wine industry in France. As a result, according to Cohen, “A racialized dynamic was reenacted through these wine wars.”
This French project of protecting “whiteness” continues today according to Cohen via the continuation of AOC laws:
“Through GIs, law is mobilized to guard the Whiteness of French (and mainly other European) foods abroad as well as domestically. The protection prevents producers not located within a predefined geographic area to market their goods under certain names or as using certain methods. France has been the leading European country in terms of the value of GI sales. After Italy, it has the second highest number of agriculture and food registrations as of 2016. Only about one-fourth of all registrations are for non-EU (“third country”) registrations, and these are overwhelmingly wine registrations. Tara Brabazon thus argues that the GI system “continues European colonization by other means. . . . The assumption was that non-European goods were not ‘authentic’ and were ‘inferior’ to the European goods.” For Kal Raustiala and Stephen Munzer, GIs are linked to a new form of neocolonialism “preventing emigrants, and their offspring, from using GIs originated elsewhere.”
Put another way, according to Cohen the most profound and important way of understanding the French AOC system is as an evil element in the French effort to preserve and protect “whiteness” as a means to subjugate non-white peoples.
This of course is preposterous on any number of levels. First of course is the assumption, which Cohen embraces as an analytical framework, that something like “whiteness” actually exists and that it is not a neutral quality, but rather an evil quality. Moreover, Cohen is able to make the straight-faced claim that French food culture is primarily replicated and celebrated in the service of whiteness rather than in the service of Frenchness.
But perhaps the most important thing to understand about this kind of outlandish attack on a nation and its people, undertaken in an attempt to demonize that nation and people and discredit its culture, is that Cohen has provided the most uncharitable possible explanation for what French food culture represents.
Cohen’s mind and ideas are contaminated by the deconstructionist notion that all ideas, all language, and all culture are a representation of power dynamics. The French celebration and export of their culinary culture are in the service of the (white) French. It is not a matter of pride built on the centuries of culinary development and experimentation, culinary refinement, and the successful assimilation and reinterpretation of the food of other cultures. French food (and their wine that has stood as a model for fine wine for centuries) is simply one more way by which evil is directed at non-(white) French. Again, it is the most uncharitable interpretation of the subject that could possibly be rendered. And also it is mistaken.
This form of applying Critical Theory and its deconstructionist antecedent will come for wine more broadly, rather than stopping at the borders of France’s AOC system. The claim will be made that wine must be primarily understood as a tool of oppression and whiteness; that by supporting wine made in the “white” countries of Europe and North America, we support oppression and the ongoing spread of colonization as a weapon of suppression.
This interpretation of wine should be resisted by thoughtful people.
to Professor Cohen