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The latest example of ‘white privilege’: Eating French food

White privilege. White supremacy. White fragility. Whiteness. For the academic left, there’s no aspect of life which cannot be shoehorned into a relationship with these terms.

Law (yes, law) professor Mathilde Cohen of the University of Connecticut recently gave a talk at Sciences Po Paris and the University of Nanterre in which, according to The Times, she argued “French eating habits reinforced the ‘dominance’ of white people over ethnic minorities.”

“By this,” Cohen says in the clip below, “I mean the use of food to reinforce whiteness as a dominant racial identity.

“The French meal is often presented as the national ritual to which every citizen can participate equally. But French food ways are shaped by white middle- and upper-class norms … and the boundaries of whiteness are policed through daily food encounters.”

Cohen says a “strategy” by which non-whites in France try to “act white” is eating typical French food — like pork. With regards to her specialty (law), Cohen notes French schools are exempt from “having to accommodate dietary requests based on [students’] identity.” The “default” for schools are “white, Christian norms.”

Cohen’s seminar was based on her academic paper “The Whiteness of French Food Law, Race, and Eating Culture in France.” The paper makes use of the concepts “food studies, critical race theory, and critical Whiteness studies,” and “sheds light” on the allegedly “neglected area” of food and race.

MORE: Study: Desiring ‘authentic’ food supports … white supremacy

A snippet:

French food itself has retained a surprising level of homogeneity and structure in the face of colonialism, successive waves of immigration, and a growingly diverse population. Foods marked as foreign are either exoticized or Frenchified, reenacting, the republican model of integration according to which immigrants must assimilate into French culture and comportment in order to belong and not remain perpetual outsiders. Couscous is an example of a food which has been domesticated to exist according to what suits the White palate. …

[C]ouscous has become growingly political, having been embraced by the left as a token of inclusiveness and challenged on the far right as a symbol of non-Whiteness. The popularity of public gatherings of progressive political and civic leaders in which couscous is served to symbolize a commitment to antiracism (couscous républicains) contributes to a narrative of French universalism whereby cultural appreciation of foreign foods validates the superiority of republican values.

Cohen’s talk did not go over well with some in France. LR deputy Eric Ciotti said his alma mater was “once open and excellent, [but] now teaches indigenous, racialist and totally delusional theories.” Sciences Po distanced itself from the professor’s seminar by tweeting that Cohen does not teach there, and that the school promotes “no particular theory or school of thought.”

According to her faculty page, some of Cohen’s other works include “The Law of Placenta,” “Regulating Milk. Women and Cows in France and the United States,” and “The Invisible Labor Inside America’s Lactation Rooms.”

Read The Times article and Cohen’s full paper.

MORE: Cal Poly lecturer: ‘Queer’ your food for ‘liberation’

IMAGE: andrelteixeira / Shutterstock.com

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Dave has been writing about education, politics, and entertainment for over 18 years, including a stint at the popular media bias site Newsbusters. He is a retired educator with over 25 years of service and is a member of the National Association of Scholars. Dave holds undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Delaware.