France, Florent and Food: An enduring message

Situated on the River Seine’s right bank in the first arrondissement of Paris, Forum Des Halles is the ultimate shopper’s haven. Just moments away from the Louvre, the mall invites visitors from all over the world to explore the latest luxury offerings, all housed under its modernist glass roof. The mall was originally a bustling fresh food market, attracting street vendors and artisans from all over the capital.

It is in this incarnation that it became the site of young Florent Quenu’s journey, the protagonist of Emile Zola’s 1873 novel, The Belly of Paris. The story is a meditation on hunger and class inequality in nineteenth-century France, where food items are potent markers of the distribution of power. The story’s central message is one that continues to hold true in contemporary global society.

Zola “demonstrates poignantly how a highly organized society can create sophisticated food systems that fail to meet the needs of society as a whole and consequently breed suffering and alienation. Florent and his little group of dreamers fail in their fictional coup attempt in 1873; but Lenin and his Bolsheviks were to succeed spectacularly in Imperial Russia just half a century later, in 1917.

“In a world shaped by ever-sharpening conflicts over the world’s natural resources, Zola’s vision of hunger in the face of plenty still has much to teach us”. (Steffen, J. The Belly of Paris: Hunger In The Face of Plenty, Sight and Life, Volume 31, 2017, p.100).

These connections are explored in a recent edition of Sight and Life, available to read by clicking here.

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