The French love food.
I don't think this is something anyone who has ever been here, or even read about life in France, can deny.
They are passionate about food. France, the country, produces much of the food that feeds Europe, and can easily produce enough food, and enough varieties of food, to feed itself. France doesn't rely on anyone else to feed them--they are self-sufficient.
When I go to the grocery store, it is always an interesting trip. There are new things to discover, new varieties to try, and it's the one kind of shopping I can do where I don't end up breaking the bank. Food is reasonably priced here, and the quality is far superior to what I found in the US at the grocery store. I love to check out little cheese shops, butcher shops, street markets, and boutiques devoted to a certain type of food product. Unlike American specialty shops, they are not always more expensive. In fact, the meat from the butcher is not only better, but is also competitively priced.
The french don't use a lot of preservatives in their food, use few additives, and don't add colorants to make it look a certain way. They have laws forbidding some preservatives and colorings (which is probably why I couldn't get my cherry chapstick here), and their culture is used to shopping for food every day, or every two days, in order to have food that is fresh, natural and delcious.
They are also very particular about the ingredients. In purchasing something, you will find that the package could tell you a lot about where the food was produced, by whom, with which variety of animal, where exactly on the body of the animal and even how it was fed or slaughtered. You'll know which type of butter from which village, which variety of apple from which orchard with origins from which part of the world, which King or Queen or Saint preferred which food or inspired the variety, and even where the salt came from that they added, whether it be from the Guérand or Fleur de Sel or what have you.
I have had discussions with French people about the difference between salted and unsalted butter. From what I can gather, the average French person eats unsalted butter, and it's considered a little unusual to prefer the salted kind. Not weird, just a little surprising, maybe a little rebellious.
This reminded me of a time back in Wisconsin, when a friend opened our fridge to get out the butter and margarine (Dr. B is lactose-intolerant) for supper. This friend remarked on the unsalted butter ("sweet butter") I had in the fridge, and asked why on earth I would want unsalted butter, as most Americans eat salted butter, and many don't even know there is butter that comes without. I replied that I use it also for baking, and like to know how much salt I add so the recipe comes out right.
Here in France, I buy margarine for Dr. B (when I have asked where it is, people often didn't know what it was, until I asked where the butter and "tartine" (spread) was.) For myself, I buy butter. I just like the way it tastes better, and according to my last physical my cholesterol level was "great" (doctor's words, not mine) so I don't worry too much about it. I started with the unsalted, but on my multigrain baguette I do like a little salt, so have switched. I am still in the exploring phase of finding the brand and type of salt I prefer.
Yesterday, Dr. B was busy at work, and his boss came in with some caramels for him to try. Her husband had bought them that weekend while on a trip somewhere in France.
After he ate one, she said, "So? What do you think? Do you like them?"
He said, "Yes. They're good."
"Well, they are special caramels!"
"Special caramels? How are they special?"
"Well, they have salt in them. Salt!"
"Salt! Didn't you know, French caramels usually don't have salt!"
Wow. Well. Huh.
Amazing how rebellious these French are. Next thing you know, they'll get really wild and add some vanilla extract!
Storm the Bastille! There's salt in the caramels!