~ by Lauren Janes, Assistant Professor of History
Recently, I reflected on the continuing intersections of food, race, and identity in French politics in an article for History News Network.
“We haven’t heard a lot in the U.S. about the far-right anti-immigrant Front National since their leader Marine Le Pen lost the French presidential election to Emmanuel Macron back in May. But the Front National is still in the news in France, mostly for growing divisions within the party over tone and substance: should the party distance itself from its anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, and anti-immigrant image? Enter #CouscousGate.
On September 13, Kelly Betesh, an official in the French right-wing anti-immigrant Front National (FN) political party, posted a photo on Twitter of herself dining with FN vice president Florian Philippot, one of the most well-known leaders of the FN at the time, at a couscous restaurant in Strasbourg (eastern France), tagging Mr. Philippot’s political association “Les Patriotes.”
The photo at the couscous restaurant, though it didn’t even have couscous in the picture, launched a backlash online. Couscous is a North African dish, which is very popular in France, but some commentators decried couscous as inappropriate for patriotic French politicians. A good dinner in Strasbourg, these internet critics claimed, was of traditional French fare, especially the Alsatian regional specialty choucroute garnie: sauerkraut served with sausages and other meats.
#CouscousGate highlights the powerful role of food in marking the boundaries of French identity, a recurring theme in French politics over the last decade….”