Back at the beginning of December, we learned that the iconic French Baguette had been named a World Cultural Treasure. Now we learn that the beloved crusty loaf faces extinction as French energy costs soar…
Embattled French baker David Beulens with|baguettes: Struggling
to keep his doors open in face of ridiculous electricity costs…
It’s hard to fathom. How could something as unique, as symbolic of a whole culture as the French baguette be allowed to perish as a result of something as prosaic as higher energy costs? But it’s apparently true.
Unbelievable electricity price increases
Mammoth energy price hikes may have crisped a death crust on the acclaimed French Baguette. An article on France24.com says cost increases for electricity, specifically, may have been the last straw for embattled French bakers in their ongoing battle to stay open.
Just the latest challenge
Multiplying energy prices are just the latest challenge for bakers. Soaring costs for basic ingredients such as butter, sugar and flour over the past 18 months or so have already weakened traditional small bakers’ ability to remain competitive. Now many are finding they have no choice but to close their doors and ‘retire’ or move elsewhere – even out of the country.
“It was absolutely inconceivable to me that a power bill could make me close my shop and stop my life here,” Julien Bernard-Regnard, a baker in the village of Bourgaltroff in eastern France, told Agence France Presse (AFP). “I had to renew my [electricity] contract at the beginning of [this past] September and it increased by three and half times.”
Bernard-Regnard says his shop’s electricity bills have swollen from about 400 Euros / (US)$420 a month to more than 1,500 Euros in the past year. Other bakers he’s in contact with have been hit with electricity bills that are now 10 to 40 times what they were just a couple of years ago.
Government not unaware of the threat
How politically embarrassing it would be if the baguette disappeared as a result of power price increases – after being declared a World Cultural Treasure. French President Emmanuel Macron recently described the loaf as, “250 grams of magic and perfection.”
What is Macron’s administration doing about the situation? Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne announced Tuesday that bakers with a cashflow problem could delay payment of their taxes and social charges. Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire invited the national bakers’ federation for talks at his offices. Le Maire acknowledged that a majority of France’s estimated 35,000 bread makers were anywhere from ‘worried’ to ‘in complete despair’ over energy prices.
Help for consumers
The French government has capped electricity prices for consumers, limiting rises to four percent in 2022 and 15 percent in 2023. But no such protection exists for businesses. Could they not see that this would cause chaos in the prices of food and other vital commodities?
In fact there is a measure in place that businesses to apply for cuts of up to 40 percent in their electricity bills of up to 40 percent. “At the moment, unfortunately, this is not widely known,” Le Maire added at a recent news conference. He also wondered aloud why the electricity industry had not ‘done its part’ to promote the program. Good question. One explanation may be that, with consumer price increases already capped at just 15 percent, for this year, the industry wasn’t prepared to take the revenue hit. But that’s just my personal, cynical speculation.
More critically, a social tragedy…
“I’m furious. The life of a baker is hard,” Bernard-Regnard told AFP. “We don’t have a life. No Sundays, no holidays. You don’t see your children grow up. But we do it with passion. At some point though, you have to stop taking us for idiots,” he said.
Bernard-Regnard also points out, his regular clients in Bourgaltroff now face a drive of 12-15 kilometres to fetch their daily bread.
“What makes me most sad is the old people. A lot of them don’t have a driving licence and live on their own. They told me that coming to the shop was the ray of sunlight in their day because they didn’t see anyone else.”
And maybe that’s the real tragedy behind the looming demise of the baguette…
~ Maggie J.