Product labeling: A cultural understanding

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French pig farm.

I’ve mentioned frequently the clarity of labels on French products. Walking through the grocery store in France is a much different experience than what I am familiar with in the U.S. There are labels for products guaranteeing that it was raised in a specific area based on the environmental conditions (Roquefort Cheese, comes from the caves of Roquefort), there are labels signifying that a product came from its exact geographical origin (Champagne comes from Champagne, France), and other labels that identify organic agriculture and Label Rouge.

Even more fascinating is that these aren’t possible to mimic in the U.S. because of the French history and their concept of terrior – a word that does not translate to English, and explains that the area has influence on product due to various production methods, soil, culture, and climate types. French consumers are different than American consumers. The French search for terrior, while Americans select trusted products. Statistically, this is proven with 20 percent of agriculture in France being organic or Label Rouge and under one percent of American agriculture being organic.

I also think, however, that the French are more connected to their farms, have a better understanding of the way meat and crops are produced, and support their farmers. Driving down the countryside, farms are clearly labeled and visitors are more than welcome to purchase meat directly from the farmer on-site. Meanwhile many consumers in America don’t trust the farmers that produce the food in the grocery store and struggle with understanding the importance of the job.

There is never a correct cultural standard because that’s what makes cultures different, but for labeling and agricultural understanding to run this deep in a country that’s known for good food, it may give a starting point for America’s own reformation of their product labeling.

Summer in France

Emily Kittendorf is a Michigan State University College of Agriculture and Natural Resources junior double majoring in Animal Science and Communications. During the summer of 2017, she is studying abroad in France where she will be sharing the adventures of her journey on the MSU Food blog.