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Comparing US and French Agricultural Systems - Meghan Kane

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Posted: November 3, 2011

I am a Francophile. I love just about all things French: The food, the language, the culture, and mostly just the way of life. The “joie de vivre” if you will.

As a student pursuing a food science major and a French minor, I sometimes get quizzical looks when I tell people what I am studying. It is an odd mix I will admit, but I simply love both subjects and because this is probably the one time in my life that I can study them, well I am! So when I heard that there was a short-term study abroad through the College of Ag that goes to Paris, I knew I had to go.

I had been to France once before with only a few days in Paris, so I was so excited to learn that the two weeks would be spent all in Paris (with a little trip out to Champagne as well!). Upon finishing all of my finals this past spring, I was ready to finally embark on our trip across the Atlantic to Paris. We had been preparing all semester in class for this moment with case studies on different US food crops. There were about half a dozen topics covered like dairy, canola (rapeseed), GMOs, organic foods, poultry, and wine. With the information that we had gathered about the US’s perspective on each of these subjects, we were ready to learn and discuss the French perspective too.

When we all arrived in Paris, we went to our new dorms at Cité Universitaire, a campus made up of international students studying in Paris. We were housed in MIAA (Maison des Industries Agricoles et Alimentaires), which was the International Agricultural Sciences dorm. After getting unpacked and settled, we went to explore a little bit by way of our wonderful metro passes. First stop was Notre Dame where there was coincidentally a “fête du pain,” meaning a bread festival!

KaneFrance2.pngAfter wandering around there for a while, we decided to have a group dinner somewhere in the Latin Quarter. Following our wonderful three course dinner, we all walked back to the dorms and pretty much passed out. The next day was just another day to get our bearings in the city before our first day of classes. Our first day of class was filled with warm welcomes from our three hosts Nicolas, Christophe, and Vincent. These three fellows were all faculty at the school that we were studying through, AgroParis Tech. The building where we had classes each day was in Montparnasse, which is essentially a business sector of the city. After many lectures, it was time for dinner, and believe me when I say that this dinner was divine. It began at 7 at Montparnasse 1900, and it lasted until close to 11:30. The duck confit was to die for. The only disadvantage to this late extravagant dinner was that we had an early morning the following day. However, I really loved that early morning field trip that we had because we got to go to Marché Raspail, an open-air food market, and because on our way to the classroom, we walked through the magnificent Luxembourg gardens! The remainder of the day was filled with lectures on agricultural policy, research and extension programs, and a presentation from ambassadors from the US Embassy. That evening a few of us went to the Eiffel Tower to see the historic piece of architecture.

The next morning we were off for our day trip to Champagne!! This was such a fun day because we first went to visit a Champagne Agricultural High School called Lycée Agricole et Viticole de Crézancy. Here a group of French students gave us a tour of the school and their presentation actually counted as an exam for their English class! Following that we went to the CIVC, which is the building where they determine standards and qualifications for champagne making. Here we learned more about champagne policy and how the houses and the growers work. The last stop of the day was at a family owned and operated vineyard called Vazart Coquart et Fils (or Vazard Coquart and Sons). At all three places we got to taste champagnes and it was interesting to see the difference in each one. I thoroughly enjoyed this day!

The next day was also one of my favorites because there were a lot of food science topics covered by the lectures. They included food safety, labeling, and ultimately a lunch filled with quality label products on the rooftop of our building. After the lectures, we walked over to the Musée d’Orsay where we had a guided tour show us around and talk about the artworks. Then we had the rest of the time to meander through the museum and look at anything else we wanted to see.

KaneFrance1.pngOn the first Friday of the trip we had a very very early start to the day with our day trip to Rungis, a wholesale market. We left our dorms at 4:30 in the morning and ventured to the outskirts of the city to this market. It was enormous. There were warehouses upon warehouses upon warehouses of wholesale food. We visited fish, meats, cheese, fruits and veggies, and finally flowers. The flowers were my personal favorite!  We were done at the market by 9 AM and after a small breakfast we traveled to an organic farm where we heard first hand from a French organic farmer and his wife. Then we got back to the city around 4 and we were all exhausted so we all took a little nap.

That night the whole group went to the Eiffel tower again, but this time later so that we could see it light up. It was so beautiful.

That weekend we had complete free time and we could go wherever we wanted in the city! My roommate and I went out to Les Halles where the old wholesale market used to occur. This district was rich with stories, shopping, and wonderful food. The next day, the two of us decided to go to the Louvre, which is a must for any first time Paris traveler. After perusing the art, we decided to head down towards the Madeline, the Opera house, Place de la Concorde, and Champs Elysees. Needless to say it was a busy walking day!

The next day was the second Monday of the trip and we had lectures about GMOs, seed production, and animal welfare. Then we got to go on a boat tour on the Seine that showed us all of the major tourist spots in the city from the river. Tuesday had lectures on food sensory, pesticides, and the “French Agricultural Organization.” This was our last day of lectures in class because the following two days were spent at Versailles and the National Assembly. The Thursday afternoon before our last day was accompanied by preparing presentations of our own on a topic that we learned about. These presentations were then given to our hosts and colleagues the next day at the headquarters of AgroParis Tech. My friend Rachel and I did ours on Champagne and it was a lot of fun to give and then discuss with the French hosts. Following our presentations, we were given a tour of the Old Library, which houses very old and interesting books on French Agriculture. Finally, we had a rooftop cocktail party with lots of champagne. It was a really nice way to wrap up the whole experience for all of us.

This trip was so fantastic and I highly encourage people to: a. go on it, b. eat everything that is put in front of you, c. eat lots of bread, d. enjoy the wine, and most importantly embrace the culture and try out your Franglais!!