Crunch time: the baguette gains UN world heritage status

PARIS (AP) — The humble baguette, the crunchy ambassador of French pastries around the world, will be added to the UN’s list of intangible cultural heritage as a treasured tradition that must be preserved by humanity.

UNESCO experts meeting in Morocco this week decided that the simple French flute, made only of flour, water, salt and yeast, deserved United Nations recognition, after France’s Ministry of Culture warned of a “decrease continues” in the number of traditional bakeries, with some 400 closing every year for the last half century.

The head of the UN cultural agency, Audrey Azoulay, said the decision honored more than just bread; she acknowledges the “savoir-faire of artisan bakers” and “a daily ritual”.

“It is important that such craft knowledge and social practices can continue to exist in the future,” added Azoulay, a former French culture minister.

The agency defines intangible cultural heritage as “living traditions or expressions inherited from our ancestors and passed down to our descendants.”

With the bread’s new status, the French government said it planned to create an artisan baguette day, called “Day of the Open Bakery,” to better connect the French with their heritage.

In France, the bakers seemed proud, if not surprised.

“Of course, it should be on the list because the baguette symbolizes the world. It’s universal,” said Asma Farhat, a baker at Julien’s Bakery near Paris’ Champs-Elysees avenue.

“If there is no baguette, you cannot have a proper meal. In the morning you can toast it, for lunch it’s a sandwich, and then it goes with dinner.”

Although it looks like the quintessential French product, the baguette is said to have been invented by Vienna-born baker August Zang in 1839. Zang installed France’s steam oven, making it possible to produce bread with a crisp crust but a spongy interior. .

The peak of the product did not come until the 1920s, with the advent of a French law that prohibited bakers from working before 4 a.m. could do in time for breakfast.

Despite the decline in the number of traditional bakeries today, France’s 67 million people remain voracious consumers of baguette, which is purchased at a variety of outlets, including supermarkets. The problem is, observers say, they can often be of poor quality.

“It is very easy to get a bad baguette in France. It is the traditional baguette from the traditional bakery that is in danger. It’s about quality, not quantity,” said Paris resident Marine Fourchier, 52.

In January, French supermarket chain Leclerc came under fire from traditional bakers and farmers for its much-hyped 29-cent baguette, accused of sacrificing quality on the famous 26-inch (65-centimeter) loaf. A baguette typically costs just over 90 euro cents (just over $1), which some consider an indicator of the health of the French economy.

The baguette is serious business. France’s “Bread Observatory,” a venerable institution that closely follows the fate of the flute, notes that the French chew 320 baguettes of one shape or another every second. That’s an average of half a baguette per person per day and 10 billion each year.

The “artisanal know-how and the culture of baguette bread” was inscribed in the meeting of Morocco among other elements of world cultural heritage, including the Furyu-odori ritual dances of Japan and the light rum masters of Cuba.

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