At long last there is validation for those of us who find the beauty of a multi-course French meal (avec wine pairings bien sûr) on par with the Great Barrier Reef or the Walled City of Baku.
UNESCO, the UN cultural organization, which designates cultural and natural sites worthy of preservation because of their "outstanding universal value," has placed "the gastronomic meal of the French" on its "world intangible heritage" list. The catalog of important cultural practices also includes Chinese acupuncture and Colombian marimba music.
The inclusion of Franco cuisine on the list was not an award for specific dishes (though the perfect baguette seems plenty deserving) but rather for the rites associated with French dining.
UNESCO explained the honored French feast as such:
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The gastronomic meal should respect a fixed structure, commencing with an apéritif (drinks before the meal) and ending with liqueurs, containing in between at least four successive courses, namely a starter, fish and/or meat with vegetables, cheese and dessert. Individuals called gastronomes who possess deep knowledge of the tradition and preserve its memory watch over the living practice of the rites, thus contributing to their oral and/or written transmission, in particular to younger generations. The gastronomic meal draws circles of family and friends closer together and, more generally, strengthens social ties.
Or, in other words, the French understand that a little social lubricant brings families together.
In campaigning for inclusion on the list, French President Nicholas Sarkozy angered the Italian and Spanish competitors when he called his nation's cuisine "the best in the world." But in the end, fancy French cuisine was not the only culinary rite included in the 46 new intangible sites -- traditional Mexican cuisine and Croatian gingerbread craft also made the list. As did the Mediterranean Diet, a joint entry from Spain, Greece, Italy, and Morocco, praised for its "nutritional model" of olive oil, fish, and dried fruits and vegetables.
And so the battle between butter and olive oil rages on.