All the stuff you never knew you needed to know about life in rural France.....and all the stuff the books and magazines won't tell you.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

The Importance of the Pork Chop in Societal Change

I used to do my basic shopping in Sainsbury's in the 1970s...that era when the sight of a woman staggering out of the store under a load of loo rolls would have you dashing inside before they all disappeared from the shelves, only to return weeks later at double the price.

Bread and sugar were also susceptible to this 'now you see it now you don't' process, but as I had once lost a tooth in a slice of what was laughingly titled 'Mothers' Pride' and didn't have a sweet tooth among those remaining to me these shortages did not affect me to the same degree of urgency.
Even in that era, 'The News of The World' was only fit for bum fodder but having as a child experienced an aunt's economy measures  I preferred the stuff on rolls to the stuff cut into squares.

And let no one mention Bronco.

Not having had savings at that time I look back on it fondly as a time when inflation made my mortgage repayments look silly.
Any spare money not applied to the purchase of loo rolls was applied to paying off the mortgage in double quick time, which, years later, leaves me without a credit rating as I have never borrowed money since and banks now regard me as an client not susceptible to being fleeced and thus unwelcome.

When not employing jumble sale elbows in stacking my trolley with loo rolls against stiff opposition I would take a cast round the store.....picking up the basics, the own brands and looking at some of the novelties in the freezer cabinets before heading off to the cold meat counter to buy German breakfast sausage...liver with attitude.
Queueing as bacon was sliced...none of your packets then...I would be standing by the butchery counter, which did have items packed ready for sale, where something in particular always intrigued me.

Pork chops.

They were always packed in twos and one was always larger than the other.

It so intrigued me that eventually I asked the woman slicing breakfast sausage (without cleaning the blade after slicing bacon) why  these chops were always of differing sizes.

It's for families. The big chop is for the husband and the smaller one for the wife.

What about the kids?

They eat fish fingers.

Thus the typical English family in the opinion of the decision makers at Sainsburys.

Moving to France many years later, a supermarket was an easy way to skirt any language problems...a 'Bonjour' to the cashier and that was it.
Some of the Britpack have managed to spend more than ten years in France using this tactic.....

Supermarkets were pretty primitive in that period - some of them more like souks - and freezer cabinets were only just being introduced to the ones in my area, but, just as with Sainsburys, while cold meats were being cut to order, butcher meat and poultry was already being packed ready for sale.

Not for France a mere pair of pork chops...they came in packs of five, the top two loin chops neatly masking the three shoulder chops beneath.
Chicken breast fillets likewise.

Nor was this the whim of a sole supermarket butcher.
From Intermarche to Super U, from Auchan to Atac, from Champion to Carrefour and even Leclerc....five pork chops was the norm.

As always, I asked Madeleine.
Not that she bought meat or poultry in supermarkets: she had her own basse cour for ducks and chickens and a butcher well under the thumb, but in my early years in France she was one of the people I could turn to for information and advice.
She died years ago now, but I can still see her, looking up from her newspaper as I arrived at the back door and hear her deep voice exclaiming

Pardi! You'll never guess what's happened!

Without her, without Alice and Edith and Monsieur Untel, my life in France would have been much the poorer - and much less informed!

She, of course, had the answer.

Which was that the tax efficient French family is that which has two parents and three kids.
Thus the packs of five.
French children, it appears, do not eat fish fingers.

Originating in policies meant to increase the birth rate after the disasters of the First World War - women are still being awarded medals for having eight kids, would you believe - general tax revenues support the families which reflect the norm of producing one extra child per generation, while generous exemptions exclude the majority of such families from the privilege of paying for the services they consume.

A whole tranche of potential taxpayers escape the net.

I talked about it years later with my neighbours' daughter in law, a nurse.
She and her husband had two gorgeous little girls...but no third child.
So did this mean that the advantage of the third child was illusory?

No. Her husband's family were farmers and their tax regime already exempted them from a great deal of tax, so why go through another birth for an additional child they did not want.
A lot of her friends had had the third child under pressure from their get the tax relief.
The farm had spared her that choice.

I have never objected to paying tax for education or for health services...vital supports for a civilised society.... but to incentivise people to produce more children than may necessarily be wanted in a world where it is finally being recognised that resources are scarce makes no sense at all.

When last shopping for my mother....though not in Sainsburys...I noticed that pork chops came as singletons...or as two of equal size....or as big packs destined for the freezer.
The British system of family support knows no norms.....



  1. I loathed pork chops as a kid and would have welcomed fish fingers. Or even beef burgers which weirdly never came in nuclear pack of 2.4.

  2. With one comment you have solved a problem that has occupied my mind....that's why the British don't have a 'norm' for packs of chops...the 2.4 would be impossible to achieve.

  3. I think it's rather sad that butchers shops have all but disappeared in the UK, with the introduction of the large supermarkets and their pre-packed meat. Although we do have some pre=packed meat here in supermarkets, they do have a good butcher section, and there are still butchers shops which I prefer to use.

    I'd give anything for even half a pork chop right now!

    1. Yes, so do I! And there used to be proper fish shops too.

      Here, butchers proliferate and it feels like going back decades to ask for a cut and have the butcher lug the meat from the cold store to cut what I want.

      This post came to mind as I was fetching some chops from our own pig from the freezer....I can understand your longing!
      Put your daughter on pork chop alert for your arrival.

  4. I'm of the opinion that the pack size is never right!

    Its the same with vegetables which come pre-packed. Like butchers and fishmongers, green grocers are also disappearing. peppers come in packs of three, red, green and yellow. So what if you only like red....

    BTW I completely agree with your penultimate paragraph!

    1. I loathe packs if only because, as you say, they are never the right size!
      And traffic light peppers were a particular annoyance....

      The only packs here are in upmarket, high price supermarkets...we still have proper shops!

      It always annoyed French governments think they're going to fight another war...or is it to ensure there are enough people about to pay for the pensions.
      If the latter, they'd better sort out the labour market sooner rather than later.

  5. I haven’t bought meat in a supermarket (well, maybe Waitrose now and again), for years. We have excellent butchers, who know exactly how to please me and will give me cuts of meat which allow me to cook German top roasts and pickled beef joints. Even Schnitzels are available.

    Long ago, when the children were young, we had fish fingers and burgers for supper; cooking a meal after work was really more than I could do then.

    I miss continental supermarkets, even those very common French ones you mentioned; English supermarkets still do not offer the same range and quality of foodstuffs and, oh, the markets with their beautifully arranged mountains of fruit and veg, where I could choose the items myself. Here, the stallholder fills my bag with inferior stuff from the back of the randomly piled up produce, with only the upper and outer layer brightly polished and blemish free.

    Oh dear, I am going to cry :-)

  6. No butchers near my mother...all driven out by the supermarkets.

    On what I saw on my last trip to Europe the U.K. supermarkets beat their French equivalents hands down...particularly on the freshness of the veg.
    No dingy cauliflowers with a suspicious absence of leaves....

    I can take or leave markets in both countries..except for stalls doing one particular thing, like artichokes or muchrooms.
    The rest seem to get their goods from the same suppliers...and then make a ring on the prices.

    You need to take a firm hand with those who try to serve you goods from under the stall.
    What they claim to be their 'display' is what they are advertising at the price quoted on their ill written chalk board.

    Don't prepared to shout when a reasonable remonstrance gets you nowhere!

  7. The Economist mag does a light-hearted comparison of big mac prices to estimate currency under- and over-valuations. Perhas they should study pork chops to evaluate family-friendliness of tax regimes :-)

  8. Hello:
    Happily, we are never in a supermarket and all our food, without exception, comes from our very local indoor and outdoor market where there is no such thing as anything prepacked. For all those other items, such as loo rolls, the State run corner shop provides. Bliss in our book.

    Here, with a declining population, people are paid handsomely to produce children with, we understand, a gift of 3 million Hungarian Forint for each child. In an over populated world we take a dim view of our taxes being spent in this way.

    1. Nothing pre packed here either...unless shopping in the high priced supermarkets aimed at the gringo market.
      Very nice to be able to have a cut of meat taken from the cold store and trimmed BEFORE weighing.

      I also tend to take a dim view of paying people to produce children.
      And then paying again to support the consequences...

  9. So I have Sainsubury's to blame? My mother still serves me and herself considerably less food than my father or brother when I visit.

    1. I suspect they were not alone....
      Still at least your mother doesn't serve your father and brother at the table while you and she eat later propped against the chimneypiece as was customary in my area of France until the thirties...

  10. Thank you for solving a mystery. I wondered why packed meat and many French recipes come as servings for 5. This presumably explains it.

    1. That was Madeleine's answer....and it seems to fit.

  11. My dear Fly, the lost butchers shops and fishmongers stalls survived the cull and are to be found here in Alba. Fresh, succulent and available without polystyrene to enhance their look. I have before me a whole loin of pork ready to be salted, smoked and hung. To my left I have fresh trout and a salmon to die for.

    Can you smell the fragrance of fresh produce from where you are?

  12. Get thee behind far as the salmon and trout are concerned...but pork here is first class and we have ham abd bacon from our own pigs...can you smell the breakfast from where you are.....?

  13. Great post, Fly. Here in Monreal there is a grocery store that has a butcher counter in it. You can order fresh meat (non pre-packaged) there and they can cut it for you according to what your needs and specifications are. It is the only grocer I can think of that actually has a butcher counter in it.

    1. My mother would love that! She is so fed up with meat cut and packaged...

  14. I shopped at Sainsbury's and The Wavy Line in the 70's too and found the "large chop for hubby and the small for wifey hysterical!! Like Hell! Ill cut the bloody pieces into stir fry before I let them put me into that category lol! Yes, here in the states the top three hide the bottom worse off three, it must be contagious...loved it!

    1. Amazing what comes back to you, isn't it!

      The packs of five really puzzled me until Madeleine enlightened me about the tax efficient family!

  15. Thanks for solving that little niggle about the pork chop packs, Fly. We don't eat much meat, so it's the variety and freshness of the veg which matters to us most and here UK supermarkets beat their French counterparts hands down in my opinion, except for lettuce and tomatoes, where SuperU is king!

    I love the fact you aren't considered credit-worthy because of having no credit history. Neither are we. :-)

    1. It's the little things that puzzle you...I remember thinking ..why five?

      We had most veg from the garden so I only became more aware of the supermarket offerings when going back to France and staying with friends and then shopping for mother in the U.K.

      The credit history shows just how things have been stood on their heads in recent yeras, don't you think!

  16. Well that is one mystery solved, but what amazes me is that all the packs of a particular meat, whether it is chicken or pork chops, all weigh the same amount. I can understand loaves of bread being a standard size, but it must be an almighty fiddle to get every pack to the same weight. Maybe this is an English peculiarity?

  17. I can dear lady, I really can!

  18. We always pay cash for everything and it is difficult if you want something like a mortgage as you have no credit rating, the whole thing is just stupid and very annoying.

    The other thing that drives me mad is when they want an account with your physical address on it. Electricity, bank, telephone and water all comes via the internet which is the only bills we have, but they won't take a bill printed from the internet!!!!!!!!!!!!

    When my Mum lived with us in South Africa I found that everything was packed in twos, now that there is two of us everything here is packed in 3 or 5, can't win other than buying 2 pkts of everything to even up the numbers!

    Have a good week Diane

    1. You would think that not having borrowed money for years would make you an ideal client, wouldn't you!

      Here, thanks to lunatic U.S. tax collecting pressure, the banks did a 'know your customer' of the requirements was a utility bill with your name and address.
      No one ever changes utilities into their own name, it's just asking for complications...on the finca we have everything in the name of the last owner, in San Jose one bill in the name of a restaurant and another in the name of the original owner who built the house in 1910!
      So we went to the electricity company who gave us a print out of a bill in the name of the last owner of the finca...and the bank did not turn a hair!
      I think they think it a complete it is.
      An annoying requirement was to have a public accountant certify our overseas income.
      We showed him a U.K. bank statement, and he wrote a covering hundred quid...thank you the U.S. tax collectors!

      I'm rather glad to be free of packets...the five of everything was a pain in the proverbial when we we're just two!

      Summer is setting in here....soon be complaining that there's no rain...

  19. This size thing - when we go out to lunch at the small restaurant in the next village Niall always gets a larger portion of everything than I do.
    As for the packs of 5 .. a real pain for us as we look for things in evens.

    1. I didn't notice that...but we went out so rarely for fear of the 'gastro'.....

      One more cat and the packs will be fine...

  20. Wasn't the big family encouraged to make up the decimated population following WWII? I thought that was the rationale behind it.

    I'm wondering when the policy rethink will come as it surely must in this day and age.

    1. Certainly during...Petain's Vichy was handing out medals to meritorious mothers.

      I have been amused by Cope trying to frighten his right wing supporters by invoking the immigrant birth rate while not frightening them by removing the advantages of those of la souche francaise....