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Sans McDonalds: Neighbors Want To Keep Paris Food Hub Historic


A free trade deal now being negotiated by Europe and the U.S. would create the world's largest consumer market - one that would encompass 800 million people. Those pushing the deal say it will produce thousands of jobs, but many Europeans feel it will also threaten a way of life, especially when it comes to food. In this encore, NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports on how this is playing out in one Paris neighborhood.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Speaking French).

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Beautiful cherries and melons, shouts a vendor on Paris' Rue Montorgueil. This street and the area around it is still known as the belly of Paris. That's because for eight centuries there was a massive food market here that fed the entire city. Tour guide Olivier Chaverenne says the neighborhood where Julia Child once shopped means something.

OLIVIER CHAVERENNE: The soul of gastronomy for the French. Remember for 800 years, there was this market, this covered market. It left so many traces in terms of food habit, food shops that you see all along this street.

BEARDSLEY: Though the Les Halles market moved out in the 1960s, residents say it's legacy lives on in the small butchers, bakers, fishmongers and restaurants - some more than 200 years old - that line the streets here. And today, some locals say their way of life is threatened by an American fast food giant.

OLIVIA HICKS: People living here don't want McDonald's. Small business people on the street don't want McDonald's. Nobody wants McDonald's.

BEARDSLEY: That's Olivia Hicks, a local elected official and head of the committee that's been fighting McDonald's attempts to set up on the Rue Montorgueil for the last four years. Hicks says a giant McDonald's would irreversibly change a street that even holds a place in French literature.

HICKS: Stendahl and Balzac used to come here, and they'd talk about these restaurants on the streets in their books. And once you have a McDonald's, it becomes like every other street in the rest of the world; whereas for the time being, this street stays very typical and very Parisian.

BEARDSLEY: This month the anti-McDonald's camp won a decisive victory when Paris city officials refused the permit in an attempt to preserve the area's traditional identity. But Hicks and other committee members say the war is not over. They believe McDonald's will appeal this decision, and indeed in a statement, McDonald's said they don't comment on active permit applications. Officials from the Paris Chamber of Commerce criticized the city's decision, pointing out that McDonald's employs 72,000 French people. McDonald's is very popular in France, and there are plenty of other McDonald's around Paris. In fact, France is the fast food giant's second most profitable market after the U.S. But all is not black and white, even on Rue Montorgueil. Daniel Rigattier has been selling cheese in his fromage shop here for 40 years. He has more than 250 different cheeses.

DANIEL RIGATTIER: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: "That's France," he says. Rigattier says he has nothing against McDonald's coming here, and it's certainly better than another clothing store.

RIGATTIER: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: "At least it's food," he says, "and it will draw a lot of young people." "Besides," says Rigattier, "it's not McDonald's that threatens us cheesemakers, it's people going on diets." Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eleanor Beardsley
Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.