Au revoir, baguette! France goes burger-mad

France is McDonald’s most profitable market outside the US, with more than 1,400 restaurants. (AFP)
Updated 20 March 2018
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Au revoir, baguette! France goes burger-mad

PARIS: Baguette lovers may be horrified to learn that in 2017, for the first time ever, hamburger sales were higher in France than the classic jambon-beurre sandwich.
American-style burgers were on the menu at 85 percent of restaurants in France last year, with a whopping 1.5 billion units sold, according to Paris-based restaurant consultants Gira Conseil.
The silver lining for foodies was the gradual demise of junk food, with good-quality, fresh alternatives on the rise.
Interestingly, fast food joints sold just 30 percent of burgers in France, with the majority sold at restaurants with full table service.
This is all big news for a country that takes great pride in its national culinary culture, and which for years resisted the global burger onslaught.
“We’ve been talking about a burger frenzy for three years. This year, we don’t know how to describe the phenomenon. It’s just crazy,” Gira Conseil director Bernard Boutboul said.
There was a nine percent jump in burger sales last year. “That’s phenomenal growth,” Boutboul said.
In 2016, hamburger sales were on a par with the jambon-beurre, or ham-and-butter baguette — which is still the most popular sandwich in France.
“But in 2017, for the first time, (burgers) overtook (the French classic) by a long way,” Boutboul said, with jambon-beurre sales at 1.2 billion units.
“One wonders whether the burger might even overtake our famous steak frites in France,” he said.
There, Boutboul may have hit a nerve. While the French see their food culture as unique, the truth is a lot of it is based on meat, bread and potatoes — not a far cry from what makes up a US burger meal.
More broadly, fast food joint sales were “beating record upon record,” Gira Conseil found, making €51 billion ($63 billion) in 2017.
France is McDonald’s most profitable market outside the US, with more than 1,400 restaurants.
The Golden Arches has adapted to French tastes with the McCamembert and the McBaguette with Emmental cheese, Dijon mustard, the various French salads and even macarons for dessert. Customers can also drink beer with their meals.
Jean-Pierre Petit, the man credited with helping France fall in love with “McDo,” is one of the brand’s most influential executives, pioneering McDonald’s attempts to adapt itself to local tastes.
In his 2013 book, “I Sold My Soul to McDonald’s,” Petit admitted that he had not eaten his first hamburger until he was 30.
In 2005 Frenchman Denis Hennequin, who introduced the Parmesan burger in Italy and the Shrimp Burger to Germany, became the first non-American to lead the McDonalds brand in Europe.
But a lot of the fast food that does best in France is high-quality — and fairly pricey.
“Even the Americans are keeping an eye on what we’re doing in our gastronomic fast food sector,” Boutboul said.


A hairy issue: Sailors tell the US Navy, ‘We want beards’

Updated 20 July 2018
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A hairy issue: Sailors tell the US Navy, ‘We want beards’

PROVIDENCE, Rhode Island: Now that women in the Navy can wear ponytails, men want beards.
The Navy said last week that servicewomen could sport ponytails, lock hairstyles, or ropelike strands, and wider hair buns, reversing a policy that long forbade females from letting their hair down.
Servicemen immediately chimed in on social media, asking the Navy if they could grow beards. A sailor’s Facebook post with a #WeWantBeards hashtag was shared thousands of times.
Beards were banned in 1984. The Navy wanted professional-looking sailors who could wear firefighting masks and breathing apparatuses without interference.
The Navy says that’s still the case. Still, some hope the change in female grooming standards opens the door.
Travis Rader, a 29-year-old naval physical security officer, said allowing beards would boost morale for men, just like allowing ponytails and locks has for women. There are two things that would make many Navy men happy: beards and better boots, he added.
Rader had a 6-inch-long beard when he joined the Navy after high school.
“You take something away from somebody, and they want it more,” said Rader, a master-at-arms assigned to Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City.
The Navy announced it was adding grooming options for women during a Facebook Live event. Many black women had asked the Navy to be more inclusive of different hair textures. The Navy had the standards in place because of safety concerns and to ensure everyone maintained a uniform, professional look.
Rader was one of several sailors who wrote in the comments section of the Facebook Live event to press for beards. Bill Williams, a 20-year-old naval information systems technician, commented too, asking why sailors can’t have beards if bearded civilian firefighters wear masks.
Williams said he thinks a nice, well-groomed beard looks very professional.
“It’d be great because I know that when I shave for multiple days in a row, it starts to really hurt,” said Williams, who works at the Naval Computer and Telecommunications Station Hampton Roads in Virginia.
Sailors can get permission to grow a beard for religious reasons or if they have a skin condition that’s irritated by shaving. Mustaches are allowed as long as they are trimmed and neat.
“Handlebar mustaches, goatees, beards or eccentricities are not permitted,” the policy states. The Navy isn’t currently considering changing that.
Safety continues to be the primary concern, said Lt. J.G. Stuart Phillips, a spokesman for the chief of naval personnel. He referenced a 2016 study by the Naval Safety Center, which concluded that facial hair affects the proper fit and performance of respirators.