The Belly of Paris

Emile Zola describes Les Halles, the much-renovated and ever-changing central food market, as “the belly of Paris.” Food halls (especially those like Zola’s – full of characters and politics) remind us that for now, we are on top of the food chain; below us, blood and guts. In many parts of the world, you can witness a tiny slice of the vast carnage that we, as a people, consume every day.  Some days in some markets, it is vividly disgusting – flys buzzing around unchilled chickens; mishandled meats; and sausages bulging with the vile remains of some mangled, lowly creature.  Even lower, dogs, rats, pidgeons, and cockroaches compete for the swill.  Maybe, as argued in the book and documentary film Food, Inc., a close and realistic look at animals in our food system (via markets) helps us understand and evaluate our own consumption.  The vivid imagery of dangling carcasses, the smell of freshly slaughtered flesh…makes you think about your need for protein, doesn’t it? Might even make you lose your appetite for a moment.  Vegetarians, you know this.

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I focus on the beautiful side of markets – fruits, flowers, confections, breads, cheeses, pastries, toys, crafts, vegetables, snacks and trinkets.  I see a carcass swinging from a hook and I know I’m in the wrong aisle.  I don’t even like to ponder all the little fish faces, frozen in their icy caskets. But no judgement; I look the other way because at dinner, if I find myself confronted by a well-cooked slice of faceless chicken with lemon hollandaise or a fish with sizzling miso sauce, I’m all in. Meat three times a day?  What were we thinking? Those days are gone for all of us, both for reasons of health and resource management.  We live in an overcrowded world with constraints.  Reduction of meat consumption will help solve some of our problems. The compassion of vegetarianism might help us recalibrate, and it is nothing new.  Consider this anti-meat argument from Plutarch in the first century:

“…what state of soul or mind {had} the first man who…touched his mouth to gore and brought his lips to the flesh of a dead creature, he who set forth tables of dead, stale bodies and ventured to call food and nourishment the parts that had a little before bellowed and cried, moved and lived.  How could his eyes endure the slaughter when throats were slit and hides flayed and limbs torn from limb?  How could his nose endure the stench?  But you who live now, what madness, what frenzy drives you to the pollution of shedding blood, you who have such a superfluity of necessities?”  -from Moralia

A few good links:

For Plutarch and other philosophers on food:  Choice Cuts by Mark Kurlansky

For Zola:Émile_Zola

For Food, Inc.:

For journalism on food and politics:  Ominivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan at

For international food markets:

For world food system: Stuffed & Starved  by Raj Patel

For more convincing:  Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser


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