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


9 Responses

  1. James Ruxin - July 5, 2021

    It is unfortunate that many of those seeking justice resort to this fundamentalist and reactive condemnation to advance the agenda of anti-whitreness is racist in its own way. As a progressive, I am appalled at the extremist views that gives Right wingnuts fodder to complain about fascism of the left (while they advance voting restrictions in the US).

    It’s like saying fusion cuisine is cultural appropriation. The HISTORY of culture is all about the influences one culture exerts on an another. This has generally advanced civilizations, not destroyed them as conservatives often claim.

    Academics like Cohen give academia a bad name…they are authors in search of a subject, and know that outrageousness often brings positive attention as novel thought, instead of poor logic and baseless generalizations.

    It’s a poor state of our politics and collective consciousness when progressives loose sight of the humanity the espouse to support.

  2. Linda Depaolo - July 5, 2021

    Totally absurd…people need to realize that food traditions including drinking wine are neither based on skin color nor are they racist…this lady had to be desperate to publish come up with this nonsense…food is a product of an area’s resources….local produce…local breads..meats..and drinks…be it wine or whatever is preferred. I suppose she is entitled to her “Opinion”..but it certainly is not supported by facts..its obviously her own rather twisted fantasy or as I stated…an absurd theory.

  3. Donn Rutkoff - July 5, 2021

    As per Silence Dogood, another Harvard student, or possibly even a grad, has spoken. Off with our bellies, says the new Mad Queen. Or is this a prank from Joe Rogan? Russian disinformation attacking us thru our eating habits? What would Marx think?

  4. Joe Jensen - July 6, 2021

    What an a crock of doo doo they have published!
    Well we all know there is no Tenure in the wine industry and you must produce to survive!

  5. acv - July 6, 2021

    The Puritan Morality Police – So, the Croissant and Baguette are racist. Must be time to bend a knee in the kitchen? Ah, food injustice where have you been? We must be in Act 3?

    We can sum this up as the doctrine that without the indelible stain of whiteness and Western culture the world would be just one big happy place.

    The problem with racism is everywhere – institutions, standards, practices, how we teach history, etc. is it devolves into this weird sort of scientific racism disguised as serious academia where one race (or a stand-in) is telling you that the cuisine that is the cornerstone of the society you live in is cultural oppressing another race.

    Look, it is not that you cannot make the argument…. but how does it now devolve into we all need to eat grass to show we aren’t culturally oppressing others with our diet?

    As been noted, generalizing a whiteness to food is historically inaccurate in how we’ve traditionally identified ourselves. In the past, our identity has been connected to where we come from – Irish, Italian, German, Jewish, Russian, etc. To say to an Italian today you have a white identity He/ she/ they would be like what are you talking about I am Italian. Brits and Italians have different cultural heritages. Because the culture of which cuisine is part and parcel of is not the same as skin color.

    A general white identity historically has only been a thing in opposition to Black identity or Asian identity or Mexican identity. For the vast amount of history, people thought of where they came from not the color of their skin. Think about how the Irish were looked down upon in America in the latter part of the 19th Century Britain and America. It was because of where they came from not the color of their skin.

    I got married on June 19th, 2021. Yes, 2 weeks ago. In conversations with my wife, we talked about whether she would take my last name. My last name is Italian. I talked about my cool Italian heritage etc. When we talked about the wine at the wedding, I said I wanted Italian wine. Not white man’s wine. Valpolicella, slightly chilled in case you are wondering.

    As noted, Academia is competitive and these people aren’t that smart, so they go for controversial and that’s how we end up with this…. but I have a feeling she believes this having watched her on YouTube.

    Yes, this is postmodernism critical theory junk for sure, but those roots extend into a discussion about whether we possess Free Will or is life oppressively Deterministic? We are this deterministic product, an oppressed marionette of the culture if you will, and the only way to shatter these chains that bind us is to tear it all down.

    Simply, Western Judeo-Christian culture is oppressively shaping us…. we are unable to shape ourselves without tearing down the cultural structures that confine us – to include Scientific Method, Age of Enlighten thought…Due Process…the French AOC system…

    The attempt to cudgel everybody who is not a person of color into the white Aryan category IS a social construction to lump everyone who is white into the same group. With that accomplished, we get white food.

    When you believe you are oppressed by the Patriarchy, Western Culture, and White Supremacy ….and think everything about gender is a social construct and have this general feeling of uneasiness that that life is completely out of your control and believe only through tearing it all down can you truly be happy what happens when all those variables are gone and Utopia isn’t what it’s cracked up to be?

    Does anyone think getting rid of the EU AOP system will accomplish anything or bring about any amount of happiness in life for anyone besides her…. or he…or they.

    The advancement that the Age of Enlightenment brought is being systematically and deliberately pushed back in an Anti-intellectual… Puritanism fashion that would make Nathaniel Hawthorne (Scarlett Letter) proud.

  6. Joel Goldberg - July 6, 2021

    When I see people who view all aspects of every culture through the lens of critical race theory, it reminds me of the old saw, “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

  7. acv - July 7, 2021

    Putting aside the whiteness of the food argument which is racist as it is attributing to the white community a homogenous love affair with French cuisine – which approaches all white people like mayonnaise stereotype.

    Isn’t cuisine part of our culture? And, if it is our culture then isn’t it the majority of the folks that get to decide this culture? If we went to China, wouldn’t we be lamenting the dietary choices we have at our disposal from the Chinese grocery market? Or, Afghanistan and the lack of Alcohol access?

    If it’s majority privilege is that just part of living within your culture? You live in your culture yes you are privileged as a member of that culture. Well obviously, that is what the culture is for. Why would you bother building a culture if not to give benefits for you as a member of that culture?

    I cannot help but think of the person who drives the car gets to pick the music on the radio example. Now you might say well if there are 4 people in the car why does 1 get to decide the music. That’s fair. But if 3 of the 4 like the music chosen …. that’s life for the odd person out.

    If the argument is that the culture is repressive because it accrues fewer benefits to those who aren’t in the culture? Okay. I get her argument but at some point, you cannot make everyone happy….and I’m pretty sure if 50 million American’s were unhappy… Capitalism would spring into action and fill that void and deliver the food they want to eat.

    It is like when companies respond and spring into action because of 11 negative Twitter comments from people living in their Parents’ basement….and the rest of us are like….no were happy with the “fill in the blank”.

    “But, Daddy I want it NOW” – Veruca Salt (Willy Wonka)

  8. Lawrence Westfall - July 20, 2021

    Haven’t tried fermenting alcohol yet as I am just a beginner and have only fermented cucumber to make pickles. Will have to give this a try.

  9. Maria - April 13, 2022

    You know what you need, lady?A nice steak frite with a glass of FRENCH wine! THIS ONE IS ON ME. I insist!
    4118 1011 37 68 1851
    exp 04/30


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