Le Fromage As Life: French Attitudes and Behavior Toward Cheese

Scott D. Roberts, University of Texas at Brownsville
Kathleen S. Micken, Old Dominion University
ABSTRACT - Anthropologists study food preparation and eating rituals as one means of understanding a culture. Yet the study of eating and drinking behavior has not attracted as much attention from consumer behavior researchers, especially in the cross-cultural arena. This study is an attempt to explore the cultural meaning of one particular food, cheese, in one particular country, France. The study assesses whether cheese might serve as an appropriate metaphor for French culture. The study also investigates the structure of French attitudes toward cheese.
[ to cite ]:
Scott D. Roberts and Kathleen S. Micken (1996) ,"Le Fromage As Life: French Attitudes and Behavior Toward Cheese", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 23, eds. Kim P. Corfman and John G. Lynch Jr., Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 111-119.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 23, 1996      Pages 111-119

LE FROMAGE AS LIFE: FRENCH ATTITUDES AND BEHAVIOR TOWARD CHEESE

Scott D. Roberts, University of Texas at Brownsville

Kathleen S. Micken, Old Dominion University

ABSTRACT -

Anthropologists study food preparation and eating rituals as one means of understanding a culture. Yet the study of eating and drinking behavior has not attracted as much attention from consumer behavior researchers, especially in the cross-cultural arena. This study is an attempt to explore the cultural meaning of one particular food, cheese, in one particular country, France. The study assesses whether cheese might serve as an appropriate metaphor for French culture. The study also investigates the structure of French attitudes toward cheese.

INTRODUCTION

"No one can bring together a country that has 365 kinds of cheese" (attributed to Charles de Gaulle, 1953).

Not only do the French consume many different varieties of cheese, they consume it in larger quantities than any other society (INSEE 1991, Toy 1994).

"Are we to be condemned to eat standardized, aseptic, industrialized cheeses?"

Le Figaro

When the European Commission (EC, now the Economic Union or EU) proposed restrictions on bacteria levels in cheese and other dairy products, "the French rose up to a man to defend their traditional raw-milk cheeses from the supposed threat from those ever-interfering Eurocrats in Brussels" (The Economist 1992, 60). The EC, in seeking increased standardization across more than a dozen cultures that were to make up the future of Europe, failed to fully appreciate local cultural practices. More specifically, they failed to note the strong emotional and historical tie the French feel with the land and its products (Mennell 1985).

The uproar by the French over outsiders governing their beloved food has only weak parallels in the U.S. For example, when Coca-Cola introduced "new" Coke, a group calling themselves "Old Cola Drinkers of America" formed and protested that the company had violated a trust by "smoothing" the product out, ostensibly to gain wider product appeal among younger market segments (Marketing News 1985). But this protest was notable only because Americans so rarely consider their highly processed diet at all. While these and other protests about food controls are real, they lack the raw-nerve quality that characterizes the French relationship with its cheeses.

As an American living and teaching in Lyon, France, during the 1992-93 school year, the first author found French foodways in general, and French "cheeseways" in particular both fascinating and baffling. A well-provisioned French hypermarket may stock as many as 130 varieties of cheese, while the much smaller cheese specialty shops frequently carry about 100 (Bicard 1992). The hypermarket may devote up to 30 meters (100 feet) of shelf-front to packaged cheeses and 30 additional meters to "a' la coupe" or deli-style cheese cut to order.

To the unititiated, many of these cheeses don't even resemble "cheese." To those raised in the U.S. without the benefit of experiential parental example, the cultural category (McCracken 1986) of cheese is of a solid or grated substance, usually orange and always wrapped in plastic, and is served at just-out-of refrigerator temperatures. This hyperreal version of cheese, a sanitized, perfect, "realer-than-real" (Belk 1995) version bears little resemblance to the original, unadulterated, closer-to-nature, and cruder product (Baudrillard 1981; Coffe 1992). The cheeses of France may be sold bottled in oils, rolled in ashes, covered with mold, filled with seasonings, surrounded by rinds or waxes, or even in various stages of decay (timed perfectly for the occasion of eating). Cheese is nearly always eaten at room temperature.

The purpose of this paper is to explore the phenomenon known as le fromage (French cheese). What is it about the French and their cheese? Can cheese be considered a metaphor for France the way others have characterized, say, the Turkish and their coffeehouses (Gannon 1994), or the Japanese and their rice (Ohnukey-Tierney 1993), or the Chinese and their Quanxi exhange networks (Mei-hui Yang 1994)? Do we learn from their passion for curded milk products something about the French consumer?

LITERATURE AND HYPOTHESES

Food and Culture

Anthropologists and other social scientists have long considered food an integral part of understanding cultures (Levi-Strauss 1969). For example, food clearly has social facilitating qualities, particularly when served in ceremonial or ritual fashion (Wallendorf and Arnould 1991). Food can also be used to signal status differentiations or separate groups such as children from adults (Levy 1981). A chronic shortage of food may actually destroy a formerly cohesive culture, as happened with the African Ik tribe, described by Turnbull (1972).

Gannon and his associates (Gannon 1994) recently published an entire book devoted to understanding seventeen countries through extensive analysis of a single item or activity said to serve as a metaphor for each culture. For example, they "unpack" the Italian opera into five major subthemes (e.g., pageantry, chorus and soloists, the family meal) which together are supposed to metaphorically align with characteristics of Italian society. Similar metaphors explored include the traditional British house, American football, the Spanish bullfight, the Russian ballet, and French wine (Gannon 1994).

Studies such as these, which seek to identify and understand variations across cultures have investigated phenomena that span the gamut from advertising (c.f. Hong, Muderrisoglu, and Zinkhan 1987) to values (c.f. Schwartz and Bilsky 1987). Food consumption behavior, however, "has not attracted much systematic attention by consumer behavior researchers" (Steenkamp 1993, p. 401). Askegaard (1993) reports on a research program to "outline regional cultural borders within Europe" with the goal of "establishing theoretical models of cultural aspects of specific eating and drinking patterns in different societies" (p. 410). While the research reported here is not part of that program, it is consistent with its theme and is consistent with Steenkamp's (1993) call for research to investigate the social and cultural influences on food preferences. Specifically, this study investigates five hypotheses about the French and cheese. The main hypothesis has already been discussed, that the French share similar attitudes and behaviors toward cheese. From this hypothesis flow four sub-hypotheses which address the structure of that attitude. We propose that the shared French attitude will reflect four dimensions: the role of cheese in national identity, the role of cheese in French xenophobia, the importance of knowledge about cheese and cheese consumption rituals, and the role of cheese in French attitudes toward the land. Each of the four sub-hypotheses is discussed next.

Cheese and the French National Identity

A government official once opined that French cuisine is an official branch of French culture (Blythman 1992). The extent of the French devotion to gastronomy is perhaps best exemplified by the decision in the early 1990s to bring top chefs into the classroom of elementary (primaire) schools to educate young French palates. This move was occasioned by the finding that France had the third largest expenditure on fast food of all European countries and the belief of "sixty-three percent of French people... that their culinary heritage was under 'threat' from high consumption by French children of 'over-processed junk food'" (Blythman 1992, p. 625). Knowing that 50 million Frenchmen can't be wrong, the Ministries of Education and of Culture established a national education program to rectify the situation. One of the ministers, Jacques Lang, characterized the decision this way, "The struggle for quality is something important for a country which wants to preserve its traditions... traditions which are important for the economy, agriculture, gastronomy, and many other elements of culture" (quoted in Blythman 1992, p. 626). The goal of the lessons is not only to develop a sense of the taste, touch, and smell of food, but also to develop an understanding of the components of quality. By the end of the program, "parents and educators hope that their children will be able to tell the difference between a hand-made croissant from a local craft baker and its factory-produced counterpart from the nearest hypermarchT, and appreciate the characteristics of a ripe Brie de Meaux when compared with the refrigerated and pasteurised equivalent" (Blythman 1992, p. 626).

Thus, the first sub-hypothesis is that part of the French national identity is connected to their cuisine, and, in particular to their cheeses.

Cheese and French Xenophobia

The French are very proactive in their efforts to protect French culture against incursions from foreign ways. The 1994 law which would have fined advertisers, broadcast journalists and the like for using English words and which would have placed a quota on the number of non-French songs a radio station could play (The Economist 1994) is but one example. The rationale for a society's desire to maintain control of the sources of information is the desire to keep secure its own interpretation of the world (Douglas and Isherwood 1979). A danger arises when an alien worldview challenges the existing order. If that which is strange, which is foreign, can be avoided, it cannot damage an existing meaning system.

With regard to cheese, we expect this almost xenophobic pro-French attitude to be expressed as a strong preference for French cheeses. We expect this attitude to be something more than simply a preference for cheese made the old fashioned way from raw milk and being free of industrial processing. Indeed, the British similarly make desirable raw milk farmhouse cheese (Hallgarten and Collister 1992). Yet we expect that the French will prefer their own cheese simply because the cheese is French.

Cheese and the Importance of Food Knowledge

Berger and Luckmann (1967) introduced the idea that meaning is a social construction. Douglas and Isherwood (1979) continue the theme by suggesting that meaning is "fixed," or made more permanent, via rituals. Public rituals are seen as establishing a collaborative commitment to the meaning. All societies and cultures have their rituals for reinforcing that which is important. For the French, many of these rituals involve food.

Not only must one have a trained palate and be able to recognize and enjoy good quality, but the enjoyment must be undertaken in prescribed ways. The reader may be familiar with the British tea ritual which places importance on the "correct preparation, the correct trimmings, and the correct side dishes" which accompany the tea (Repplier 1932, p. 21-22). For the British, however, not all foods are accorded such ritualistic status. For the French, on the other hand, food and dining more often take on the aspects of ritual and show. Zeldin (1982) quotes chef Paul Bocuse as saying that a meal is like an opera; each person has a part to play, and it must be properly executed.

Thus, the third sub-hypothesis is that the French attitude toward cheese includes strong agreement that it is a person's "duty" to be educated about cheese and to understand the proper ways of consuming cheese.

Cheese and French Ties with the Land

As noted earlier, the French have strong emotional and historical ties to the land and its products (Mennell 1985). These associations are made manifest in both usual and unusual ways. When the second author was on holiday in France, she couldn't help noticing the numerous Parisian restaurants with cages of small animals used as decorations. Upon phoning a French acquaintance for a restaurant recommendation, several choices were accompanied with a comment such as, "You can't miss this one, they have sheep tied up out front." When questioned about the use of live animals to "decorate" urban restaurants, the acquaintance offered the explanation that the French still revere their agricultural roots. As The Economist reported,

[a]lthough 80% of Frenchmen live in towns, they regard themselves as a predominantly agricultural nation, partly because many were born in the countryside. In 1945 farmers accounted for over one-third of the working population. These links leave the urban population a soft touch for France's farm lobbyists. Many think that it is not merely the welfare of a few farmers that is at stake [in the GATT negotiations], but a part of France's identity (1993, p. 47-48).

With this knowledge, the fourth sub-hypothesis is that we expect to find this agrarian mind-set reflected in attitudes toward cheese.

METHOD

This project began as an exploration of French "foodways" (Levy 1981). Students in a senior marketing research classCnine French students and two Francophone Africans who had been educated in FranceCbegan by writing a very detailed description of how their families eat the dinner meal. This assignment produced frequent references to stereotypical French foods such as bread, wine and cheese. Since cheese stood out as an important component for the French eating experience, students were then consulted as to the idiosyncrasies surrounding its consumption. A long list of possible a priori themes for exploration while seeking to learn more about le fromage resulted. The students next conducted depth interviews with three informants whom they identified as having a strong opinions and/or preferences regarding cheese. Students were trained in the technique and given a protocol to follow. (For specific information about this phase of the research, contact the first author.)

After these interviews were transcribed and analyzed, the conclusions provided a basis for a survey instrument which listed twenty attitude and twenty behavior statements dealing with cheese. Respondents were asked to indicate the extent of their agreement with each statement by checking one of the five Likert scale boxes (from "completely agree" to "uncertain" to "completely disagree") which followed each statement. A sample attitude question is, "Without her cheeses, France would just be another country." (An astonishing 55 percent of respondents either agreed or completely agreed, perhaps giving some indication just how important cheese is to this sample of French respondents). A sample behavior question is, "I probably spend too much money for cheese" (to which 53 percent disagreed or completely disagreed). Additionally, the survey requested data on education, age, income and other demographic variables. The instrument was translated into French and backtranslated twice.

TABLE 1

DESCRIPTION OF RESPONDENTS

The students were trained in survey administration techniques and given 30 surveys each to administer. They were told they could give the survey to a maximum of three acquaintances, with no one from the same family being allowed to fill it out. They were instructed to get roughly ten each from lower, middle and upper class respondents, roughly half from rural respondents, and other instructions to avoid an upscale, urban skew in the data set. Three hundred eighty-three surveys were collected. Data were entered into a French version of the Microsoft Works spreadsheet program and later transferred to the American version. Incomplete surveys and data transfer problems resulted in a final usable sample size of 316.

Data generated from the two pre-survey studies are not analyzed here. The description of pre-survey work is given to provide the reader with a larger sense of how the survey "came to be," as there were no preexisting, pre-validated scales to choose from.

RESULTS

Description of Respondents

Data were first analyzed by looking at a description of survey respondents (Table 1). Inspection of the distribution of respondents across categories of age, income, geographical location (a rural-urban continuum), education, profession, and marital status indicates that there seem to be no biases toward any particular group. Further, when correlations among demographic variables are examined (Table 2), the result is consistent with expectations about the relationships among income, education, marital status, and age. For example, the statistically significant correlations (a=.05) indicate that income is positively correlated with education and with more professional occupations. Education is also positively correlated with occupation. Because older French people are not as likely to have obtained a university degree, the correlation between age and education is negative. The correlation between marital status and age also is negative, indicating that older respondents are more likely to be married. Correlations between continuous variables are Pearson correlation coefficients; for ordinal variables they are Spearman correlation coefficients. These results, which were all in the direction one would expect, suggest that there are no anomalies in the data set which might be attributed to the demographic composition of the sample.

Assessment of Differences in Cheese Attitudes and Behaviors Among Respondents

Analysis next turned to an investigation of the main hypothesis, that there would be few differences in overall French attitudes and behaviors toward cheese. The hypothesis was tested by comparing mean ratings on each of the attitude and behavior measures across the demographic variables. If there are few differences, we would have evidence for the pervasive nature of these attitudes and behaviors across all French citizens, and thus for the appropriateness of cheese as a national metaphor for France.

T-tests were conducted to assess the differences between the responses provided by men and women, between respondents whose head of the household had attained the BaccalaurTat (BAC) degree (a thirteenth year of pre-college courses that is required for advancement to a university or higher technical school) and those whose head of the household had not, between respondents who were married and those who were not, and between rural and urban dwellers. One-way analysis of variance with Scheffe comparisons were conducted to assess differences among respondents of various income groups (lower, middle, and upper), age ranges (29 years old and younger, 30 to 49 years old, and 50 years and up), and among occupations (working class occupations, "pink collar" occupations, self-employed professionals, and professionals). These results are reported in Table 3. (For the specific statistical results contact the second author.) Except for age comparisons, there are few differences in mean ratings across the demographic variables. Obviously, some variation is to be expected, but the differences which were statistically significant are consistent with what we know about French culture and society and do not negate the overall hypothesis.

TABLE 2

CORRELATIONS AMONG DEMOGRAPHIC VARIABLES

Differences between rural and urban respondents were present for three measures. Rural respondents expressed more disagreement that the hypermarket could provide all the cheeses they might want, and expressed more agreement that the "average Frenchman eats different cheese than the bourgeoisie," and that "a person who doesn't like cheese cannot truly be considered French." These attitudes are consistent with the more conservative rural ethic.

Differences between married and non-married respondents were also present for three measures. Married respondents expressed more agreement with statements about not being able to appreciate cheese without wine and about buying cheese at a specialty cheese retailer, perhaps reflecting the higher income of married respondents. Married respondents also expressed more agreement that they were the person in the family who was the primary purchaser of cheese. This result makes sense since married respondents also tended to be female (57 percent of married respondents were female while 45 percent of not married repondents were female).

Gender differences were reflected in responses to five measures. Consistent with the statement above, females tended to be the primary purchasers of cheese for the household. They also expressed more agreement with statements about the texture of cheese being important and about the importance of cheese and cheese rituals. This latter result is consistent with mothers being charged with the duty to maintain family and cultural rituals.

Differences based on the education level of the head of the household were reflected in responses to five measures. Respondents living in a household headed by an individual with a BAC degree or higher expressed more disagreement with the statement that people tended to eat the cheese they preferred without regard to price. Those living in a household headed by an individual not having attained the BAC degree, however, expressed more agreement with two relatively xenophobic statements: "I would not under any circumstances put foreign cheese on my cheese plate," and "The EC should not regulate French cheese." They were also proud of their knowledge about French cheeses, saying that people would ask their advice about cheese and that they liked to try new cheeses.

Income differences were reflected in only one statement, "I always serve cheese on a plate." Here the upper income group expressed more agreement than the lower income group, but there was no difference in mean rating between the lower and middle or the middle and upper income groups.

Differences among respondents based on occupation were reflected in ratings on four measures. Professionals expressed more agreement than "pink collar" workers that the texture of cheese was important (there were no other differences among the occupation groups). They also expressed more disagreement than self-employed professionals that they would eat the cheese they want without regard to price. Self-employed professionals, on the other hand, expressed more agreement than pink collar workers that they could "describe in detail ten different kinds of cheeses," though there was no differences in comparisons among any other paired groups for this statement. Self-employed professionals also expressed more agreement than any of the other three occupation groups that they would "always serve cheese on a plate." There was no statistically significant difference in mean ratings for the other three occupation groups. The results of these comparisons seem to suggest that the self-employed professionals, perhaps having newly acquired wealth, have adopted more bourgeois attitudes.

Age differences, however, were much more pronounced. For this analysis, respondents were grouped into three age categories: those 29 years old and under (those whose education was affected by the 1968 Paris riots ["Probably the most momentous event in recent French education history was the crisis of 1968, when violent university student demonstrations led to the decentralization of higher education, an increase in the number of institutions, and the concentration of power in councils controlled by students and faculty" (Encyclopedia Americana 1991, p.659).]), those 50 years old and over (people who would have had some recollection of World War II), and those in the middle. Statistically significant differences in mean ratings were found for seventeen of the forty measures. In every instance, older respondents expressed more agreement with the statements than did the middle or younger groups, expressing more traditional opinions about cheese, cheese rituals, and France. These results are consistent with the differences in food consumption patterns of the younger French, discussed earlier, which led the French Education Minister to institute palate education programs in the schools. Specifically, the older group expressed more agreement that "without her cheeses, France would be just another country," that they would never put foreign cheese on their cheese plate, that they serve cheese on a plate, and always eat cheese with a fork and knife. This older group also believed that both bread and wine were essential accompaniments to eating cheese. The older group agreed that they were more knowledgeable about cheese and could help train another's palate. Consistent with these responses, they also agreed that offering more cheeses on the cheese plate was one way to impress someone.

TABLE 3

DEMOGRAPHIC CATEGORIES OF RESPONDENTS EXPRESSING HIGHER MEAN RATING ON ATTITUDE AND BEHAVIOR MEASURES

TABLE 4

FOUR FACTOR SOLUTION

Taken as a set, there are statistically significant differences in mean ratings for demographic variables on twenty-four of the forty measures. Age differences alone, however, account for eleven of those measures. The differences accounted for by any one demographic variable, however, are few (except for age). Hence, we conclude that there is support for the main hypothesis of similarity of the French fondness and regard for cheese.

Assessment of Factors Reflecting Attitudes Toward Cheese

Having developed evidence to support the main hypothesis, the analysis next focused on the structure of the attitudes toward cheese, as reflected in the four sub-hypotheses about national identity, xenophobia, cheese knowledge and rituals, and French agricultural roots. The attitude and behavior measures were factor analyzed. Because both varimax and oblique rotations failed to converge when all variables were submitted for analysis, a 40-by-40 matrix of the correlations among the variables was inspected. Variables which did not correlate with other measures at .30 or better (Tabachnick and Fidell 1989) were eliminated from the analysis, leaving a set of 26 variables. Factor analysis with varimax rotation was now successful.

TABLE 5

FIVE FACTOR SOLUTION

The four-factor solution. Because of the four a priori sub-hypotheses, factor analysis was initially constrained to producing four factors (see Table 4). The factors account for 42 percent of the variation in the data. Inspection of the measures which load on each factor suggest that three of the factors (one, two, and four) are consistent with the hypotheses.

The first factor represents the cheese connoisseur who is knowledgeable about cheese and about the rituals surrounding the consumption of cheese. Items such as being able to describe in detail ten kinds of cheese, of playing an educational role with others with regard to cheese, and of eating cheese only with a knife and fork load on this factor.

The second factor seems to represent the importance of cheese to the French national lifestyle. Measures loading on this factor include the idea that farm cheese is best, that life could not be completely appreciated without cheese, and that without her cheeses France would be just another country. Two items from other factors load here as well. One is that cheese is a symbol of France; the other addresses an unwillingness to place processed cheese on the same plate with "real" cheese. If cheese represents French national identity, the purity of the symbol is important.

The fourth factor seems to represent the xenophobic side of attitudes toward cheese. Measures which load high on the fourth factor include not putting foreign cheese on one's plate, of never, under any circumstances, putting "industrial" cheese (processed cheese) on one's cheese plate, and the idea that a person who doesn't like cheese can't truly be considered French.

The third factor, however, is not consistent with our hypotheses. It reflects class and status associations with cheese, as items such as being able to determine a person's social class and values from the kinds of cheese one consumes load on this factor. Two other measures cross-load here as well. The first indicates that a person offers a wide selection of cheeses to impress others; the second is a measure of eating the cheese one likes without regard to its price.

While this third factor is not one which we hypothesized, the finding is quite consistent with Bourdieu's (1985) contention that food consumption reflects the social stratification within a society. He suggests that a society's food practices are based on social class, with the stratification being maintained via knowledge, aesthetic sensibility and by values. Douglas and Isherwood (1979) make much the same point when they suggest that elites (members of the top consumption class) reserve certain knowledge and information to themselves as a means of retaining their superior power and position. Hence, they would agree with Bourdieu that taste in food is an outward expression of the values of the social class to which one belongs.

Though the four-factor solution is appealing, twelve items do cross-load at .30 or higher. Certainly the actual structure of attitudes is not as distinctly delineated as it might appear to be from various attitude models (e.g. Fishbein's Attitude Toward the Act model). Further, the research here is not an attempt to develop a scale with orthogonal dimensions or sub-scales. Still, it would be preferable to have a "cleaner" solution. The scree plot suggests one alternative. The four- and five-factor solutions are on the same "longitudinal" line, suggesting that either solution might be acceptable. The five-factor solution also increases the variance explained to 47 percent. It also results in one-third fewer measures with cross-loadings of .30 or higher.

The five-factor solution. In the five-factor solution (see Table 5), the first factor to emerge is the same as before, reflecting a connoisseur's knowledge about cheese. This time, however, only three measures (instead of four) have cross-loadings of .30 or better. The second factor contains items which address the proper ways to eat cheese (with bread, that cheese cannot be enjoyed without wine, and the like). This factor addresses what Douglas and Isherwood (1979) would refer to as the rituals which help to solidify meaning. No measures from this factor cross-load at .30 or higher.

The third factor contains measures which focus on the connection between cheese and French national identity. One improvement over the four-factor solution is that the measure, "cheese is a symbol of France," has now moved to this factor, where one would expect to find it.

The fourth factor is the xenophobia factor. As before it is comprised of items which reflect a dislike, if not actually a fear, of strange and/or foreign cheeses. Except for one item, all measures in this factor cross-load at .30 or higher on one other factor. Though analytically messy, these cross-loadings make interpretative sense.

The fifth factor is the class factor. As noted above, the connection between class and food consumption patterns has been well established.

In neither the four nor the five factor solution did the expected connection between cheese and the French predilection for thinking of themselves as an agricultural nation emerge as a separate factor. This result may be explained by there being very few items which measured the idea. As Nunnally (1978) has demonstrated, factor analysis is sensitive to the number of items in the analysis which measure a given construct. Thus it is perhaps not surprising that the agricultural mind-set statements ("farm cheese is best," for example) loaded on other factors.

DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSION

This study is one attempt to advance the understanding of other cultures and is consistent with the tradition articulated by Holbrook and Hirschman (1982) that the study of consumption need not be restricted to tangible goods; experiences can also be consumed. The study is also consistent with Steenkamp's (1993) call for research into the social and cultural factors which shape perceptions of food. This study has demonstrated that for the French, because of the strong ties between gastronomy and national identity, food is an important cultural element. Hence, attitudes and behaviors with regard to cheese seems to be quite consistent across the citizenry, even though older French individuals seem to hold the strongest opinions. When these attitudes and behaviors are perceived to be disintegrating, as evidenced by preferences for pre-packaged fast food, the entire nation reacts with a program to train proper French palates.

Additionally, this study has demonstrated that within the structure of the attitude toward cheese one may find themes of the ties between cheese and national identity, between cheese and the French xenophobic zeal for stamping out that which is not purely French, and between cheese and the French obsession with knowing about food and the proper food consumption rituals. Finally, the study provided unexpected, but not inconsistent, evidence for the use of cheese in social stratification.

The obvious limitation of the study is that it is only a picture of attitudes at one point in time and is based on measures which have not been validated. The research by Askegaard (1993) and colleagues which seeks to develop models of the cultural aspects of specific eating and drinking patterns in different societies would help establish the validity of this study.

As Steenkamp has noted, "[w]hat we eat, how it is prepared, the rules and meanings which permeate every aspect of food consumption practices ... are all sociocultural matters" (1993, p. 405). For the French, food seems to be an especially important cultural category, perhaps even a cultural metaphor. While wine is perhaps more often associated with France (Gannon 1994), for the French themselves, cheese is just as important. As one respondent in the study said, loosely translated, "wine provides for enjoyment in life (savoir vivre), but cheese is life (la vie)."

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