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Don’t You Baguette About Me: Inflation in Europe is toasting baguette production in France

Ayaan Paul
Ayaan PaulJan 08, 2023 | 08:00

Don’t You Baguette About Me: Inflation in Europe is toasting baguette production in France

The French baguette is a beloved French national symbol and a staple of the country's cuisine. However, the increasing inflation in Europe is threatening the production of this iconic bread.

“A baguette isn’t merely water, yeast, flour and salt. It’s also a lot of savoir-faire, an ancestral method jealously guarded. But still, you have the problem of your bills,”
- French President Emmanuel Macron told bakers gathered for an annual gathering to mark the Catholic holiday of Epiphany.

But before that, here’s a quick history of the “250 grams of magic and perfection”:

The long, thin loaf of bread that is a staple of French cuisine. It has a crisp, golden crust and a soft, airy interior. The baguette was originally popular among the working class, as it was cheap and easy to make, and could be easily carried around in a bag or basket. It has a long history in France and has come to symbolize the country's culinary and cultural identity.

In the early 20th century, the French baguette began to evolve. It became longer, softer, and more flavorful, thanks to the addition of butter, salt, and other ingredients. The bread became a staple of the French diet, and could be found in every bakery and grocery store in the country.

The baguette, which means "stick" in French, was originally made using a lean dough that was baked in long, thin loaves. It was popular among working-class people who could not afford to buy more expensive, enriched breads. In 1920, a law was passed in France that prohibited bakers from working before 4 am. This led to the development of the ‘baguette viennoise,’ a softer, sweeter bread made with milk and eggs.

The baguette soon became a symbol of French culture and was embraced by the upper classes as a sign of sophistication and refinement. It is now a staple of the French diet and can be found in bakeries and supermarkets all over the country. It is often served as a side with meals or used to make sandwiches.

In addition to its cultural significance, the baguette has also played a role in French politics. In the 1960s, it was used as a symbol of resistance during student protests and has been associated with anti-establishment sentiment.

In the 1980s, the French baguette began to gain recognition as a cultural symbol of France. It was featured in numerous films and television shows, and became a popular souvenir for tourists visiting the country.

Despite its enduring popularity, the baguette has faced some challenges in recent years. The rise of industrial bread-making and the decline of small, independent bakeries have led to concerns about the quality and authenticity of mass-produced baguettes. In 1993, the French government passed a law to protect the traditional baguette and ensure that it was made using traditional methods and ingredients.

A staple of the country, the baguette, was voted to be included in United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s (UNESCO) Intangible Cultural Heritage list last year. The recognition was a major milestone for the French baguette, and solidified its place as an iconic symbol of French culture.

However, today, the emblematic loaf of bread is in dire straits owing to the effects of inflation across Europe:

One major factor contributing to the inflation in Europe is the rising cost of ingredients. Wheat, which is the primary ingredient in baguettes, has seen a significant increase in price in recent years. This is due to a variety of factors, including droughts, crop failures, and trade tensions. As the cost of wheat goes up, the cost of producing baguettes also increases, making it more difficult for bakeries to turn a profit.

A baker La Parisienne bakery in Paris, France. Photo: Reuters

In addition to the rising cost of ingredients, the inflation in Europe is also impacting the overhead costs of electricity to keep the bakery’s running. The astronomically high electricity bills have been an enormous burden on bakers across the country. Although France has capped electricity prices for consumers, limiting rises to 4 percent in 2022 and 15 per cent in 2023, no such protection exists for businesses.

Furthermore, as prices rise, so do wages, making it more expensive for bakeries to hire and retain employees. This can lead to a decrease in the availability of labour, as workers may choose to pursue higher paying jobs in other industries.

Photo: Getty Images

The impact of inflation on the production of baguettes is also not limited to the cost of ingredients and labour. As prices rise, consumers may opt for cheaper alternatives, such as sandwiches or pre-packaged pastries, leading to a decrease in demand for baguettes. This can lead to a decline in sales, which can further impact the viability of producing baguettes.

The inflation in Europe is a significant threat to the production of the French baguette. It is important for bakeries to find ways to mitigate the impact of rising costs, such as increasing efficiency or finding alternative sources of ingredients, in order to ensure the continued production of this beloved national symbol.

Photo: Getty Images

With assistance from the French government, bakers struggling to pay their bills have successfully managed to renegotiate their contracts with energy suppliers.

The country's Economy Minister has come up with a survival package to help the country's 33,000 bakers.

"The three aids to which the 33,000 bakers in France are currently entitled are a financial aid window, a 20% discount with the shock absorber - all of which can be combined to give them a discount of up to 40% on their invoice - and a deferral of payment of social security contributions and taxes," 
- French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire in a statement

The French baguette remains a popular and beloved food in France and around the world, and its UNESCO status has helped to ensure that it will continue to be a part of French culture for years to come - come hell or high water (or a full blown economic crisis).

Last updated: January 08, 2023 | 08:00
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