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Le Weekend, 3/31/23: The Price of Water and Protest in France 🇫🇷

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March 31, 2023

Dear Frenchly Readers,

In France, you can buy 1.5 liters of water in a plastic bottle for around .50 to .75 Euros, or around .50 to .75 cents. In the U.S., the same size bottle of water costs upwards of $2.49, USD. In the U.S., obviously, you are paying 3 to 4 times more for the same thing. (Why not also tell you that in France a mid-range bottle of wine is about $6.75, while in the U.S. a mid-range bottle of wine is about $13?)

France banned single use plastic in 2021; the ban is now in effect at fast food restaurants, where reusable dishes are now used, and in grocery stores where plastic packaging on fruits and vegetables has been reduced and plastic bags are banned. That same ban includes plastic water bottles, which are supposed to be phased out by 2040. (In a large study, French water in plastic bottles was found to have microplastics in it.) It is more common in France to either drink water out of a glass at a cafe after you drink your coffee, or fill up your own water bottle at various water fountains—even the kind that look like art have potable water flowing from them.

In Maine, where I live, our state is suing 3M (the makers of toxic forever chemicals and, funnily enough, those masks we all wore during Covid) and Dupont for contaminating our farmland and water. All you have to do is watch Mark Ruffalo in Dark Waters to know how long these companies have known what they are doing.3M’s plants in Belgium are contaminating France with PFAS, known as “forever chemicals.”

And the concerns over water in France are mounting. Climate change has challenged France, like everywhere, as rain and snowfall are declining and groundwater is dwindling. According to an article in Le Monde this morning, water “has been reduced by 14% over the last two decades, compared to the previous 10 years, and it is expected to decline by a further 30%-40% by 2050.” Yesterday, President Macron went to the French Alps to unveil 53 measures he is proposing in a “water plan.” Le Monde quotes the President as saying, “‘No prospective scientific model tells us that the situation will improve.’” He went on to say, according to Le Monde, “‘Water has once again become a strategic issue for the entire nation.’” He said he hopes that the French will join him in helping save water and that individuals should “be helped to equip themselves with rainwater harvesters.”

To the dismay of some, Macron did not specifically address ways the that water could be saved with important changes to intensive farming in his speech yesterday.

France has a unique agricultural situation: You can grow almost anything in France; the terrain is multifaceted. There are mountains on both sides of the country and rolling, undeveloped farmland; cold northern climates, ocean breezes, rivers, lakes, snow and rain. And France has, theoretically, ample space, sun and water to grow fruits, vegetables, grains, meats and dairy of any kind. Again, theoretically, France can feed its own populace without needing food from anywhere else.

Meanwhile, in the west of France there have been enormous protests over the construction of a “megabasin,” or agricultural reservoir, which will pump water from the water table during the winter and save it for agricultural purposes in the summer. Again, from Le Monde: “This Saturday, the demonstrators came ‘to support a fight against the appropriation of water,’ according to Sara Melki, 37, a Confédération Paysanne activist, who organized protests involving a thousand or so farmers and about 50 tractors. ‘In our business, water is essential and the resources of water tables will be pumped for the benefit of food corporations and a few farmers. We must change the model,’ said a farmer who grows vegetables in the Millau region, in southern France.”

As many of you know, and I wrote about in my last two Le Weekends, here and here, there has been widespread outrage across France, and especially in Paris, over Macron’s government pushing into law an article that raises the retirement age from 62 to 64. Sixty-four is still younger than every other nation in Europe and the U.S. Last week, Macron told King Charles not to come to France because of the protests. Once again, from Le Monde: “By projecting the French crisis onto the international stage, the postponement of the royal visit highlights the twofold incomprehension this issue creates with its neighbors: how can the postponement of the retirement age to 64, an age that is often much lower than that in force in our neighbors, turn a country like France upside down? How can the government of a country that claims to play a leading role in the European Union be so incapable of managing an internal political conflict through dialogue? These are questions that could be useful for the French themselves to consider.”

Now look, the nuance of these issues is often lost to those of us looking in from the outside. There is so much, in this case, that goes into the French notion of what it means to be a part of their country, what they feel inside themselves about being French, what it means to lead a good life, and how they lead that good life. And also what they feel their country owes them, what is rightfully theirs.

Though these are two different kinds of protests about two different topics, what connects them is that this is a nation that is thinking and talking about everything, right out in the open. The French can’t stop everything they don’t like, but at least they are engaged in meaningful discourse, that is, also, sometimes pretty fiery.

À cuisiner, regarder et lire çe weekend:

Ok, we have cannelés for Easter, French asparagus to ogle, French Sundays to emulate and more on our website. We’ll be back next week with a new Bouffe by Kate Christensen. And great news: she has done all the planning for your entire Easter meal!  Stay tuned for that. We’re also delving deep into some travel tips next week, too. Now that Cat Rickman has joined me as the Managing Editor of Frenchly, we are looking forward to really ramping up. I loved her first Wednesday NL; I hope you did, too. She’s got good ideas for that going forward.

In the meantime, I also loved this piece about Ann Napolitano, whose new book, Hello Beautiful, was chosen by Oprah as her 100th book club pick. Dan and I are watching Dear Edward, based on her previous novel, with the amazing Connie Britton (both a Dartmouth and Friday Night Lights alum), on Apple TV—hard first episode. But then, I promise (and I am scared of plane crashes, too), you get amazing acting and character development. You can really feel the novelist in this adaptation, which, for me, as a writer, makes it so much richer.

Have a good weekend!

À bientôt,

Caitlin.

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