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People make a living out of wine, but its also killing them: welcome to the French paradox

Time:2019-12-09 13:28wine - Red wine life health Click:

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FRANCE - Alcohol

People make a living out of wine, but it's also killing them: welcome to the French paradox

Issued on: 07/12/2019 - 10:08

French president Emmanuel Macron offered China's Xi Jinping a bottle of Romanée-Conti 1978 on a recent visit to Beijing, valued at several thousand euros.

French president Emmanuel Macron offered China's Xi Jinping a bottle of Romanée-Conti 1978 on a recent visit to Beijing, valued at several thousand euros.

French president Emmanuel Macron offered China's Xi Jinping a bottle of Romanée-Conti 1978 on a recent visit to Beijing, valued at several thousand euros. Ludovic Marin / AFP

Text by: Alison Hird

France has replaced plans to promote "Dry January" - a UK initiative to stay off the booze for a month - with "Janvier Sobre" encouraging people to limit their intake to two glasses a day. Advocating abstinence in a country where two-thirds of its regions are wine-producing is complicated.  

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More than 40,000 people died of alcohol-related diseases in France in 2015, and the French National Association of Prevention of Alcoholism and Addictions has been pushing for a "Dry January" campaign here, based on a UK programme which organisers claim has helped four million people reduce their alcohol consumption.

It looked set to happen but President Emmanuel Macron had a change of heart, reportedly under pressure from wine lobbies.

Exasperated, a number of groups fighting addiction have decided to go it alone, launching the Défi de Janvier (January Challenge).  

We talked to journalist Thomas Pitrel, co-author of Tournée Générale (a round of drinks), about why alcohol in France is so much more than a drink.

This interview, edited for clarity, was produced for the Spotlight on France podcast.

Thomas Pitrel: All parts of French society can be explained through the relationship with alcohol: in culture, books, songs everybody is talking about it, everybody has a relationship to it. That’s why in the book we start by talking about the people who don’t drink because even the people that don’t drink always have to explain themselves. Why don’t you drink?  Why don‘t you drink champagne when it’s a celebration? Are you sick or is it something religious? No, there are just some people who don’t want to drink and in France they have to explain why. 

RFI: In February 2018 President Macron boasted he drank wine everyday, at lunch and at dinner. He seemed to be supporting the French wine sector. 

TP: I need to point out it’s not like that for President Macron’s followers because the consumption of wine in parliament in France has gone down by 50 percent since the new MPs arrived. People are not drinking so much at the bar of the Assemblée Nationale. It’s a new generation of politicians, the average age is 10 years less and there are more women. It looks like this generation is not drinking so much at least during the day. It’s an evolution of French society  - people are not drinking at lunch anymore.

RFI: And less for breakfast! You used to see people having a glass of red wine at breakfast. You even had kids going to school on wine. The law banning alcohol in schools wasn’t introduced until 1981.

TP: And you can still find documents about how back in the 1950s miners could drink up to 12 litres of wine a day. It was hot in the mines and they sweated a lot. But that’s evolved as the type of jobs people are doing has changed. Fewer people work in the fields, in factories, doing very physical jobs. Before, people were drinking wine because the State promoted wine as a healthy drink, healthier than water. That's why there was wine in schools and on every table at lunchtime in France. It's changed.

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