The French far right is fighting what it calls 'the kebabization' of France

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Marco Werman: I had a ham sandwich on rye for lunch today, but every now and then I really like a good kebab. You know the deal -- succulent pieces of meat, tenderized with spices for hours, grilled and slapped on warm pita bread. A lot of people in France are with me on this. Kebabs are huge there, especially among the young. But France’s far right is not happy about the kebab trend. It’s not about taste, though. They see the popularity of kebabs as nothing less than a threat to French identity. Alexandria Sage is a reporter for Reuters in France, she recently wrote about all of this. Just give us a sense of how popular kebabs are in France today, Alexandria.

 

Alexandria Sage: Well, you see kebab shops everywhere. Here they're called “Kebab-Frites” because your kebab usually comes with a side of fries, a french invention. They're everywhere -- in the big cities, in the small cities, even in a small town. If you've got a small town of about over 11,000 people, you probably are going to find a kebab shop. They're very, very popular.

 

Werman: So, the right wing doesn't like kebab, though. What’s that all about?

 

Sage: They see in the kebab sort of the demise of French culture. It’s very interesting, the kebab becomes sort of a scapegoat in this land of gastronomy. Think about it: you've got French gastronomy -- at the top, you have haut cuisine; at the middle level, you have this traditional country food, like coq au vin, cassoulet; and at the bottom you have your sandwich au jambon, your ham sandwich. Well, if you think about it, the kebab is kind of like the ugly stepsister of that ham sandwich. Nobody talk about it, it’s there and it’s ubiquitous. Some people love them, but nobody talks about them. They're not part of the national discussion about food. The reason is because kebabs are originally brought over by the Turks, so this is a Muslim food and we're in a country where we have Europe’s largest Muslim population, and not everybody is really happy about that.

 

Werman: I thought kebabs had been around in France for awhile. Why is this being discussed now?

 

Sage: Well, the far right, the National Front has had a pretty stellar rise in recent years in France, and now we're at a period in the country where we’ve got very high unemployment, we've got a stagnant economy and there are a lot of unhappy French right now.

 

Werman: If you were to follow some right wing French nationalists around some night as they went on a bar crawl -- will they end their evening at the kebab shop? Them too?

 

Sage: It’s funny, I talk to some people, they said “I bet they actually really like it. They just don't want to like it.” But we had municipal elections where the National Front did quite well in March. A lot of the campaign speeches beforehand during this municipal election was “There are too many kebab shops in my town. This is the kebab-isation of France.” Now, you cannot, in the land of Égalité, Fraternité and Liberté, you cannot say “There are too many Arabs in my town.” But you can say “There are too many kebab shops.”

 

Werman: What about the kebab shop owners and vendors? They must be feeling this too. What’s their reaction?

 

Sage: They are very hurt, I would say, by this, that they are being stigmatized in this way. They say this is the same as when the Italians came. “You didn’t accept the Italians when they brought their pizza in the 60’s to France. We're just doing the same thing,” and hopefully in a generation this is going to be a non-issue. But for now, they do feel that their food is not as accepted, is not as appreciated in this land of gastronomy.

 

Werman: Alexandria, how about you? You like kebab?

 

Sage: I'm a vegetarian.

 

Werman: Oh, alrighty. Well that lends a certain neutrality to your story.

 

Sage: I love a good falafel, and I have to say, doing this story made me very, very hungry.

 

Werman: I am hungry now too. Alexandria Sage, reporter with Reuters. Thanks so much.

 

Sage: Thank you Marco.