The Baguette and The Beast: French fear inflation against culture
The significance and symbolism of the baguette are grand for the French. It was ranked last year on UNESCO's list of the world’s intangible cultural heritage.
During the annual gathering to mark the Catholic holiday of Epiphany, a group of bakers and pastry chefs gathered and took the chance at the Élysée Palace to protest their inability to afford gas to operate ovens for the French staple, the baguette. However, French President Emmanuel Macron stood before them on Thursday and promised additional aid to tackle the increasing cost of the ingredients in light of the grave inflation.
“A baguette isn’t merely water, yeast, flour, and salt. It’s also a lot of savoir-faire, an ancestral method jealously guarded,” Macron stated, adding: "But still, you have the problem of your bills.”
Just earlier this month, Macron told the French newspaper, Le Parisien, when asked about the prospect of blackouts in France, in general, this winter: "I see a lot of concern about this, but don't panic! It is the government's responsibility to work out scenarios for dealing with any situation," as he added: "We will survive this winter". The public doesn't seem so assured, as everyone from citizens to bakers are in the same boat.
'Let them eat cake'
French Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne made vows, which help bakers pay their electric bills in installments and delay tax payments till next year when energy bills are expected to be lower.
French finance minister Bruno Le Maire stated at another press conference on Wednesday: "The state is ready to do everything necessary to help bakers that are worried and at times in complete despair."
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The baguette holds great significance and symbolism for the French. It was named to UNESCO's list of the world's intangible cultural heritage last year. Also, in March 2020, at the height of Covid-19, France closed the entire country except for essential businesses, of which bakeries were one.
However, in light of the energy crisis, Paul Boivin from France’s Federation of Bakery-Pastry Businesses, which represents around 48,000 employees in the sector, reported that energy contracts were due for renewal - at a time when the cost of ingredients such as butter, flour and milk were on the rise.
“Prices were multiplied by two, by three, by eight. Sometimes by 10,” Boivin said, as he called the contract proposals "delirious.”
Takes just a cent to notice
In an attempt to limit damage, a tariff shield applied for consumers and small local businesses with fewer than ten employees, but bakers’ unions say many members are not eligible for the mechanism, which led many bakers to take it up with the government.
Macron pointed fingers at the war in Ukraine, but on the other hand, energy production was taken down a notch after some nuclear reactors were idled due to corrosion.
Nicolas Bécam, head of 20 bakeries in western France, expressed his frustration that the price of electricity rose threefold on January 1 as opposed to last year and urged that state assistance would provide minimal but at least some relief.
Bécam confessed that he was forced to increase his prices by 10% last month and another 5% on January 2. That has caused disarray among the French people as they know the price of the beloved baguette by heart, so the slightest increase in mere cents will have heads turning.
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