French gastronomic meal joins UNESCO heritage list

France’s traditional gastronomic meal, in which ritual is as important as the food itself, has been entered on the world’s "intangible" heritage list by a UNESCO committee meeting.


AFP - The UN cultural organisation on Tuesday added Spain's flamenco dance and French cuisine -- a first-ever listing for gastronomy -- to the world's intangible cultural treasures.

UNESCO experts, gathered this week in the Kenyan capital, singled out French gastronomy as a "social custom aimed at celebrating the most important moments in the lives of individuals and groups".

France's multi-course gastronomic meal, with its rites and its presentation, therefore fulfilled the conditions for featuring on the list.

The country's ambassador to UNESCO Catherine Colonna hailed the inclusion, saying it "makes a contribution to cultural diversity".

"The French love getting together to eat and drink well and enjoy good times in such a manner. It is part of our tradition -- a quite active tradition," she added.

How wines are paired with dishes, how the table is dressed, the precise placing of glasses, for water, red and white wine, knife blade pointing in and fork tines down, are all seen as part of the rite.

Francis Chevrier, chief delegate of the French mission in charge of submitting the UNESCO bid, also welcomed the decision.

"It's very important that people realise, in villages in Africa and everywhere, that when you have knowledge of food it is a treasure for your community, and something worth cherishing," he said.

"It's wonderful. This is excellent news for French culture, for French heritage, to invite our cuisine, our gastronomic heritage to sit at the high table of culture at UNESCO."

However the move has sparked worries that the UNESCO heritage label could now be used for commercial ends.

Among the reasons cited for the inclusion of flamenco was that the dance could "raise awareness about intangible cultural heritage, while promoting human creativity and mutual respect among communities".

The inter-governmental committee meeting here since Monday has been considering 51 cultural practices from around the world for inclusion on the Convention of Intangible Cultural Heritage.

It approved all four elements proposed for inclusion on a list of practices in need of urgent protection: Croatian Ojkanje singing, Meshrep -- the harvest festival ceremony of northwest China's Turkish-speaking Muslim Uighur people and two other Chinese cultural practices.

Delegates overruled some participants' concern over China's restriction on Meshrep.

Of the 47 items proposed for inclusion on a non-urgent list, 46 have so far been inscribed. The last item will be discussed early Wednesday.

The "world intangible heritage" list, which until now numbered 178 cultural practices -- including the Royal Ballet of Cambodia and Mexico's Day of the Dead festival, was drawn up under a 2003 convention, now ratified by 132 countries.

A UNESCO fund delivers grants to help developing countries finance the protection of cultural practices in much the same way that the UN body protects sites of cultural value or great natural beauty.

Mexican traditional cuisine and Croatian ginger bread craft were also included in the classification.

Other admissions to the list include China's traditional art of Peking opera, oil wrestling in Turkey's Kirkpinar region and falconry in 11 countries.

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