France goes (a bit) veggie for Olympics

With France slowly weaning itself off its traditional obsession with meat, the top chefs in charge of feeding the sporting masses at the 2024 Olympic Games are emphasising a more vegetarian approach.

France goes (a bit) veggie for Olympics
French chef Akrame Benallal is one of three in charge of catering for the Athletes Village during the Paris 2024 Olympics. Photo by JOEL SAGET / AFP

Michelin-starred chef Akrame Benallal serves plenty of steaks, burgers and other meat in his restaurants, but his flagship dish for the Games will be muesli with quinoa.

“When there are 40,000 meals per day, I don’t want anyone to be let down. I want people who eat kosher to eat with me, people who eat halal, the Christians and Buddhists too,” he said.

“It’s vegetables that unite everyone,” he added.

He is one of three award-winning chefs overseeing the French food for the 15,000 athletes of the Olympic Village next summer.

Another is Alexandre Mazzia, a former professional basketball player, who is offering recipes based around chickpeas, peas and smoked beetroot, and smoked fish with chard.

They are working with a big food group, Sodexo Live!, that is running the restaurants and has made it a key objective to reduce the carbon footprint of its menu and use less animal protein.

It claims that a third of the protein across its 500 dishes will come from vegetables, and one of its signature dishes will be a dal of green lentils from the Paris region with skyr (a type of yoghurt), coriander and corn oil.

French people on average consume 113 kilos of meat annually – more than most European countries and almost double the global average – according to Our World in Data.

But with the country committed to cutting its meat consumption for environmental reasons, the Olympics could mark a turning point, said food historian Loic Bienassis.

“Historically, there are no famous French dishes that don’t include meat. To say ‘Let’s do some French cuisine but cut out the meat’ is a major turnaround,” he said.

There will still be plenty of meat in the Olympic Village, of course.

The last of the three top French chefs is Amandine Chaignot, who has chosen guinea fowl with crayfish as her signature meal.

“Clearly, when we think of traditional French cuisine, we think more of ‘steak au poivre’ than quinoa risotto,” she joked.

But vegetables alone cannot meet all the needs of the world’s top sportspeople, said Helene Defrance, a medal-winning sailor and nutritionist who is on the athletes’ commission for 2024.

“Vegetarianism is a big trend… but it’s not something that we can impose on everyone,” she told AFP.

Pulses can be hard to digest and not everyone converts plant proteins effectively, she said.

But as Mazzia points out, their food is more for celebrating after the competition than during the build-up.

“I’m interested in everything related to kilocalories and the like, but that’s not what I’m here for,” he said.

“The important thing during the Games is to stop and take a moment to enjoy something totally different. I hope the athletes come to celebrate their medal victories with me.”

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Could your French baguette taste a little different in future?

The baguette is an enduring feature of life in France, where some 320 baguettes are consumed every single second. New rules mean they might taste slightly different in future but at least they will be healthier.

Could your French baguette taste a little different in future?

Breakfast, lunch or dinner… there is never a bad time to eat a baguette in France. 

And the good news is: they are about to become healthier. From October 1st, new regulations mean that baguettes sold in bakeries should contain no more than 1.4g of salt per 100g, down from the current legal limit of 1.5g of salt per 100g.

The salt content in French baguettes sold in bakeries has already plummeted by 20 percent since 2015. 

The new rules form part of a wider government strategy to reduce salt consumption in France by 30 percent by 2025. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has urged all countries to follow the same target in a bid to reduce health problems such as hypertension. 

WHO guidelines say that adults should not consume more than 5g of salt per day, but the average French adult consumes between 7-8g. 

France’s National Confederation of Bakers is on board with the incoming regulations and acknowledges that bread contributes to about 20% of the average French person’s salt intake. 

Will this change the taste of baguettes? 

The salt content change is only very marginal – 0.1g per 100g – so it is unlikely to have a significant impact on the taste of baguettes.

The National Confederation of Bakers has said that the new rules will impose a “real challenge” to bakers who will now have to adjust other elements of their recipe to make a like-for-like product. “There are alternative solutions such as live sourdough, extra yeast or yeast extracts that can be used to compensate for the reduced salt content,” it said.  

It said that slightly adjusting the temperature at which the baguettes are baked could also go some way to compensating for this loss.

Other bread products also affected

It is not just traditional baguettes that will be affected by the new regulations. 

So-called pains spéciaux will also see a new salt threshold imposed of 1.3g per 100g. 

Pains spéciaux are breads that either use grains and flour distinct from those used to make traditional baguettes or plain white bread.

Examples include le pain de campagne (which uses regular wheat alongside rye sourdough), les pains au levain (sourdough breads), le pain complet (wholemeal bread), les pains aux céréales (which use multiple varieties of wheat) and les pains aux grains (which are generally covered in things like sesame or pumpkin seeds). 

The National Confederation of Bakers has said that various analyses and tests would be performed using samples taken from bakeries all over France, to ensure that salt limits for both pains spéciaux and pains traditionnels were being respected.