#Couscousgate in Historical Context: Food and Identity in French Politics

Thursday, January 3, 2019: 1:50 PM
Salon 6 (Palmer House Hilton)
Lauren Janes, Hope College
On September 13, 2017, Kelly Betesh, an official in the French right-wing anti-immigrant Front National (FN) political party, posted a photo on Twitter of herself dining with FN vice president Florian Philippot, one of the most well-known leaders of the FN at the time, at a couscous restaurant in Strasbourg, tagging Mr. Philippot’s political association Les Patriotes. The photo launched a backlash online. Couscous is a North African dish, which is very popular in France, but some online commenters decried couscous as inappropriate for patriotic French politicians to eat. #Couscousgate was born. Eight days after the famous couscous dinner, Philippot left the FN, transforming his Les Patriotes into his own anti-EU political party.

#Couscousgate seems a silly example of how the politics of identity play out on the internet, but it developed in a context where food has often been used to define the boundaries of French national identity to the exclusion of colonial subjects, immigrants, and racial others. This paper analyzes the use of food as a marker of identity in French politics, with an emphasis on the recent history of political scandals surrounding couscous and halal meat. It places these recent events in the context of a national culinary discourse that since the First World War has set racialized boundaries around what it means to eat as a French person.