The relationship between sustainability and culture in the US frustrates and confuses me, but it also fascinates me. This year, I have the opportunity to look at the relationship between sustainability and culture in France. There have been a few main things that I’ve noticed that have made me conclude that French culture is more sustainability-oriented than American culture (as you might have already guessed). Here’s what I’ve come up with so far.
More Local Foods.
The Toulon Sur Allier region is home to several backyard chicken coops, which means food scrap recycling (chickens love bread crust and carrot skins!) and very local, very fresh eggs. Of course, there’s all the local jam, wine, bread, and cheese. France is famous for its cheeses; the livestock needed to produce all those delicious cheeses tend to be raised locally in small-scale farms rather than distant factory farms. These locally produced meats and cheeses are available everywhere from the neighborhood butcher shop to the grocery stores. Bread another delicious, locally produced food can be found at your neighborhood bakery. Even food from outside the country, say Italy or Spain (at around 500 miles away) is a shorter distance than the one from the west coast to the Midwest. (It’s around 2,000 miles from California to Minnesota).
In the US, I drove a four-door Ford Focus, which was one of the smaller vehicles on the road. Here, it would be a little large. Tiny little two-door vehicles are the norm. It’s rare to see a truck, or even a van; a special license is needed to drive a vehicle over a certain length. Not only are the cars smaller here, but there’s less reason to use them. Though I landed 330 km away from my destination in central France, I was able to reach it quite easily (and quickly in just 2.5 hours) by train. All in all, much better than worrying about renting a car, finding parking, navigating through Paris, etc.
Utilizing Existing Buildings.
The structures that have been built here were made to last. Try as I might, I haven’t been able to spot a single new house. Construction is one major source of waste that we don’t tend to think of in the US, though new developments are cropping up everywhere. Most of the homes here have maintained their original structures, though they may be restored or refurbished on the inside. This means lots of character, and certainly less waste. Big box grocery and clothing stores are generally located in new buildings – ugly, spare structures made of what appears to be sheet metal – which are few and far between.
Local cheese, wine, meat, and bread are a source of pride.
I have yet to hear someone brag about driving a manly, gas-guzzling car. You take the train if you can and drive if you must. I’m sure people try to keep up with the Jones’ like anywhere else (here, it’s more like ‘Keeping up with the Didiers’), but unlike in the US, having a brand new house will cost you some points. It’s not necessarily that the French value sustainability for sustainability’s sake (though some of them do); it’s that a lot of the things they value culturally happen to be sustainable. Most of what I’ve seen doesn’t require much sacrifice and simply utilizes the practical, attractive, and/or cost-effective. Hopefully, it’s just a matter of time before American culture as a whole values cost-effective, practical, and attractive choices that will ultimately (and painlessly) give us a start on the long road toward sustainability.
The following is a post from The Good Human reader Monica, who contacted me about the differences she has seen between the US and France when it comes to the environment.
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