If you’ve lived in France for any length of time you will be familiar with the frozen-foods store PICARD. If you’ve never heard of it – imagine something across between Marks and Spencer’s and Iceland: rows of chest freezers brimming with top-quality, petrified nosh.
To help customers identify what’s in each freezer the store is divided in to handy sections and above each chest is a ready-reckoner of what you’ll find inside each. All but one of the sections are self explanatory:
- Fruit and vegetables
- Meat and poultry
- Fish and seafood
- Appetisers, starters and salads
- Cooked dishes
- Bread and pastries
- Ices and desserts
- Cooking evasion
This last category “cuisine évasion” translated more freely might be better understood as “Microwave meals” however, seeing as it includes sushi, it is hard to find an English phrase that explains exactly what it is. I suppose “kitchen avoidance” might come closer, though where else would you find a microwave?
Even in French it is an inappropriate description as at least half of all of the products in Picard require no actual cooking. The irony is even more striking given that many classic, French household meals require no cooking at all either. All you have to do is sling together some bread from the boulanger, meat from the charcuterie, cheese from the fromagerie and salad from the épicerie – and voila: you have a typical French meal, no cooking required. Isn’t that “cuisine évasion” too?
It all comes down to France’s attitude towards the humble microwave oven; they don’t consider it to be worthy of a real kitchen. Sure you might find it in the corner kitchen at the office but anyone who actually uses one must be incapable of cooking or simply avoiding/evading it. A real chef would never use one! Perish the thought!
“British cooking”, I was told by a proud Frenchwoman soon after my arrival in France, “is simply a case of sticking something in a microwave and pressing go!” Indeed, adoption of the micro-onde in France has been one of the slowest in the western world – presumably suspicious of it’s safety and the quality of the results.
However, Picard’s growing range of zappable meals suggests that France’s snobbery is on the wane and, given that 88% of French households now own one, “cuisine évasion” is becoming a socially acceptable way to “cook”. This recent article by Amandine Vanstaevel tells all:
Today, microwaves are no longer the exclusive reserve of company canteens. Between a lack of space and overbooked schedules, the French have brought microwave cooking into the very heart of the home. And contrary to received ideas, it’s not just because they don’t know how to prepare their own meals.
But one wonders how long it will be before Picard drop the derogatory nomenclature for something plus cool. What about: prêt à manger!!??