Sustainable living in the South of France.
The South of France, in its very essence, is a place that encourages a sustainable way of life. To live here is to benefit from the array of beautiful prospects the region offers: the Cévennes Mountains with its great big peaks which look down onto shallower valleys and softer hills. The Mediterranean Sea offers a thick strip of magnificent coastlines and rocky edges at the southmost points of the country. Many rivers, lakes and canals flow through the land, encouraging an incredibly rich biodiversity, which is carefully maintained by dozens of centers for the protection of the environment. Inland, ancient volcanic activity has formed large bands of bright orange volcanic rock shaped into cliffs, surrounding the Lac du Salagou. Anyone who has set foot there can tell you it feels like you are stepping right onto Mars. In the natural reserve of the Camargue, you can observe thousands of species of birds, fish and flora, in a wild, swampy wetland that has been the place of salt harvesting for centuries. The South of France is also famous for its laid-back attitude: it's always time for a drink, as flocks of people populate bars, cafés and restaurants at all hours. The South of France sticks out by it's brazen Mediterranean tint, with its 2800 hours of sunshine a year1. On the whole, the Mediterranean lifestyle seems to be a historically sustainable way of living, with the foods2 it introduces and the way it produces them. However, what is the region really doing to encourage a sustainable way of life?
A greener government in the works
The south of France, delimited by the Occitanie region3 at the southest point and the PACA4 region towards the East, is the scene of many incentives to offer a more sustainable way of life to its' inhabitants. Despite a global pandemic, the last local elections were a token of the region's desire to evolve in a greener environment. Rémi Gaillard
, a French animal rights activist and leader of a new independent party who was a candidate last June, came forward with many considerations to make Montpellier a place more considerate of ecological priorities. In Marseille, to the political scene's surprise, Michèle Rubirola recently became the first female mayor of the city, leading a new ecological party called the
1 Agate Météo
2 Lopes, Ricardo, 2016. "The Mediterranean Diet As A Sustainable Food System," Journal of Spatial and Organizational Dynamics, Cinturs - Research Centre for Tourism, Sustainability and Well-being, University of Algarve, vol. 4(4), pages 281-288.
3 Occitanie: Montpellier, Carcassonne, Perpignan, Nîmes, Mende, Rodez, Cahors, Montauban, Albi, Toulouse, Auch, Tarbes, Foix
4 PACA (Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur): Marseille, Avignon, Toulon, Digne les Bains, Gap, Nice 5
Throughout France, a real turning point has been observed: roughly 36 cities6 elected a mayor from the main green party, and dozens of others chose representatives from other independent ecological parties. In many cities, measures have been put in place to facilitate sustainable alternatives to transport, like the mass creation of new bike lanes and free public transport. In Montpellier, the government has offered 50€ to those willing to repair their bikes.
Fr om ground to plate, from trash to home, communities and sustainable initiatives
Government initiatives aside, the South of France is home to strong communities working towards sustainability. Many independently run farms and agricultural hubs, called 'pôle d'excellence agro-écologique et sociale'7 ('center for agro-ecological and social excellence') are implanted and continually showing efforts to produce in ways more caring of the environment. The culture of farmers markets in larger cities and towns is on the rise, and growers now have the opportunity to sell their produce to metropolitan areas, where it is lacking. There is a real demand for gentle, caring agriculture, as opposed to the mass production this last decade has got us used to. Some places, like the Mas Mirabeau8, are also focused on the social potential that farming holds. The Mas Mirabeau employs individuals in situations of social rehabilitation, who have the opportunity to learn new skills in a caring environment. It also works in close cooperation with the Architecture school of Montpellier, serving as the stage of many experiments and learning experiences for the students who help provide structures for intelligent farming. Recently, a small group of students were building dry toilets looking out onto the beautiful hills surrounding the fields, to avoid the farmers having to walk 15 minutes several times a day. When asked about the relevance of the Mas Mirabeau as a sustainable example for the future, Zakaria Vial, one of the architecture students who worked on the site, answered that 'sustainability must come through education before everything'. These students are able to bring to the table their youth and determination, to benefit from a real learning experience: how to offer real solutions for people to ease their transition into a more sustainable way of working and in this case, producing?
It is becoming clearer and clearer that working with the land, on a more accessible level for all, is one of the positive steps all can take for a better future. What a rewarding practice it is to evolve with the seasons, consuming what the earth is eager to give, instead of feeding the mouths of huge corporations whose aim it is to make profit. On the 27th of November 2019, 1,000 farmers organised a protest in Paris, laying out straw on the pavements lining the Champs Élysées9, driving up in their tractors. Fed up of the government prioritising mass agriculture over smaller family structures, the farmers demand better circuits for their produce, and most importantly, a voice for the future generation of land workers. This shows that France as a whole is on the brink of a shift in the way it provides food for its citizens and also demonstrates the alternative ways
6 EELV, Europe Écologie Les Verts
7 Conservatoire d'espaces naturels Languedoc Roussillon, Ville de Fabrègues 8 Domaine du Mas Mirabeau, 34690 Fabrègues
9 Thibault Burban, Le Parisien
through which it is possible to consume resources in a way respectful of local biodiversities.
However, the disease of overconsumption isn't only plaguing the way we eat. The approach in which Western society exhausts material resources is devastating, devouring all in the wrath of planned obsolescence. The term was thought up by Bernard London10, as an effort to end the Great Depression by pushing consumers to stimulate the economy in replacing things often. Still today, objects are designed to reach obsoletion sooner than necessary, in a capitalist model of production. Thus, facing the waste generated by every industry, many initiatives are coming forth to counter the landfills and pollution provoked by these manufactories. In the South of France, there is an important culture of 'recycleries', eco-centres aiming to recycle used goods and to sell them at extremely low prices to promote the reuse of objects. Second-hand furniture or clothing pieces are a commodity, many thrift stores popping up in cities, appealing to the younger population who has developed a taste for the old and a rejection of the new.
The Medi terranean way of life, a sustainable one
The simple pleasure of strolling through a farmers market, sporadically lending your attention to merchants loud voices, looking around at the rows of colourful produce... Eating seasonally, gracing your body with the foods of each time of the year, nourishing yourself with carefully grown and curated fruits and vegetables, locally produced provisions. Sharing a generous homemade meal with friends and family, around big wooden tables, outside during the summer or around a timid fire in colder times. Elizabeth David, in
A Book of Mediterranean Food11
, defines the Mediterranean region as "those blessed lands of sun and sea and olive trees". The Mediterranean diet, oriented mainly around four components (olive, wheat, grape and vegetable) uses food grown nearby, undergoing none to little transformation occurring before the cooking process. These foods are systematically locally sourced and produced. In comparison, in the US, foods have on average travelled 1,500 miles to get to their place of retail. The soft, kind Mediterranean climate enables and encourages agricultural growth and provides a great variety of fruits and vegetables (peppers, lemons, olives, tomatoes, courgettes, grapes, oranges, peaches, almonds, figs, apricots...). The Mediterranean diet is a simple one, combining straightforward quality ingredients together which create clean, hearty meals to share and enjoy without moderation.
Switching to a Mediterranean diet can reduce one's greenhouse gas emissions by up to 72%12, and can drastically reduce waste as well as water consumption. Reducing processed food consumption and carrying out the nourishment of one's body within the framework of what the land can offer within reason. In this way, the Mediterranean diet has been proven to be fundamentally sustainable and an effective modality of positive change.
10 London, Bernard. Ending the Depression through Planned Obsolescence,. New York, 1932. 11 David, Elizabeth. A Book of Mediterranean Food. London, Macdonald & Co, 1958.
12 Sáez-Almendros, Sara, et al. "Environmental Footprints of Mediterranean versus Western Dietary Patterns: Beyond the Health Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet." Environmental Health, vol. 12, no. 1, Dec. 2013.