Quality food for popular neighbourhoods: “We have the right to beauty even when we have no money”

Quality food for popular neighbourhoods: “We have the right to beauty even when we have no money”

Lhe atrium of the Maurice Noguès socio-cultural center, in the 14And arrondissement of Paris, is already very lively this Saturday afternoon. And for good reason: the center hosts a cooking competition on its premises that brings together the culinary talents of the district. Many residents – mostly women – came with their children or friends. The pleasure of being together and the hugs were not long in coming, while some are already busy in the kitchen. In one corner, even the children get their hands dirty preparing fruit skewers, pancakes and other sweets.

“Aline, can I talk to you? », “Alina, how are you? », “Aline, where do I put it? » Constantly solicited, the president of the association Towards a common purchasing network (VRAC), Aline Di Carlo, goes from room to room to finalize the final details. Red Carpet: OK, Public Seating: OK, Judging Table: OK. We consider her a perfectionist for this event that the association is preparing for only the second time, after a first edition in the 18ᵉ arrondissement.


The jury for the sweet part of the competition, exclusively female, like most of the audience present.

Sweet pecks

The jury for the sweet part of the competition, exclusively female, like most of the audience present.

© Nils Hollenstein

Against clichés

“The idea of ​​the competition is to take the opposite view of the clichés of popular neighborhoods. Here we have talents and know-how from all over with a common desire: to create beauty and quality. » This mantra guides the activity of the association on a daily basis. For almost ten years, Vrac, founded in Lyon, has been creating purchasing groups in priority neighborhoods for city policy (QPV). His goal: to allow the inhabitants of these popular neighborhoods to access organic, local and fair trade products, breaking down the price barrier practiced in the big brands.


The dishes are observed, tasted and evaluated by the jury.  The Thiou de Maydouna and its trompe-l'oeil meat won the day and took 1st prize.

happy elected

The dishes are observed, tasted and evaluated by the jury. Le Thiou de Maydouna and its trompe l’oeil meat won the day and won 1um price.

© Nils Hollenstein

Buy in large quantities, without intermediaries, avoiding unnecessary packaging, “allows you to limit prices, without bleeding producers”explains Boris Tavernier, founder and general delegate of the association. “It is the producers who set their prices, we buy, according to our capabilities”completes the one who claims to have been a fervent supporter of peasant agriculture for nearly 20 years. “Whatever the socio-professional category, we have the same percentage of people who want to eat well. It’s not just a matter of money or culture. » This is confirmed by a study by the IDDRI (Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations) published in early 2022: modest people aspire as much as others to “eat well”, but face more constraints to achieve it. Blaming them only makes things worse [1].

Vrac is currently present in 14 cities and 80 priority neighborhoods and has 4,000 member households. The association will soon open four new branches, two in the south, in Avignon and in the Pays d’Arles, two in the Paris region (Nanterre and Saint-Denis). Boris Tavernier hopes to then be able to perpetuate the system: “We can say that we have stepped in the door. The challenge now is to demonstrate that these alternatives can become the norm. »

“I had to use the purple carrot”

Today, even if the members of the 14ᵉ buying group are few, the inhabitants and regulars of the socio-cultural center are present. “Creating this moment of celebration is only possible because Vrac is present in the neighborhoods and collaborates with other structures”, underlines Aline Di Carlo. The jury of savory dishes, made up of two chefs, a journalist and one of the winners of the previous edition, takes place in front of a large audience.

For the competition, the candidates are subject to some constraints: use a seasonal vegetable or fruit in their dish or dessert and revisit their recipes with a vegetarian sauce. Maimouna, one of the participants, jokes: “I had to use the purple carrot. »


Senegalese and vegetarian pastels prepared by Maimouna, in sufficient quantities to feed the jury and the public.

Victims of the purple carrot

Senegalese pastels, and vegetarians, prepared by Maimouna, in sufficient quantities to feed the jury and the public.

© Nils Hollenstein

“By getting to know us and tasting our products, people trust us and (re)discover flavors they didn’t know or no longer know”, says Boris Tavernier. The Bulk catalog focuses mainly on dry goods, seasonal vegetables and fruits, as well as hygiene and cleaning products that members order and then come to pick up once a month during a service. Depending on the city, the catalogs and membership conditions vary. In general, the inhabitants of the neighborhoods in which the buying group is established have priority and benefit from free membership.


Maimouna, mother and historic resident of the neighborhood.

Maimouna

Mom and historic neighborhood resident.

© Nils Hollenstein

The products for the culinary competition were supplied by Vrac, such as the flour, which came from a mill in Versailles. The recipes are often traditional: vegetarian variant of the “DG chicken” (a dish from Cameroon), vermicelli, Tunisian couscous or even pastel (doughnuts) from Senegal. “I started cooking this morning at 10:30, it makes me happy that the jury can taste my pastels”, Maimouna rejoices. Long time resident of the neighborhood, she “he knows the walls well” of the socio-cultural center. “At the neighbors’ or music festivals they always ask me to make a kilo of crayons. I often bring three”he says laughing.

Go beyond food aid

Among the participants, Françoise, treasurer of a solidarity grocery store in the neighborhood and member of the Vrac. The solidarity grocery, part of the Paris food aid network, comes to the aid of precarious workers for three to six months. “We have to build bridges so that people from the solidarity grocery then turn to Vrac. Unfortunately, at the moment we are not able to do this”, he regrets. Every quarter, at least 2.5 million people use food aid distributed by charities such as Secours Populaire or Restos du Coeur (including 80,000 through a solidarity grocery store), according to INSEE. The task is therefore immense.


1st prize for desserts, Aïcha's chestnut and lemon cake surprised the jury with its successful combination of flavours.

“amazing”

1um dessert prize, Aïcha’s chestnut and lemon cake surprised the jury with its successful combination of flavours.

© Nils Hollenstein

Vrac’s action, if it has not yet become the norm, aims to be a sustainable alternative to the current food aid system: “We are still in a policy where the poor have the right to leftovers and unsold products”criticizes Boris Tavernier. “We too have the right to beauty when we have no money. »

This also involves organizing collective moments such as these workshops and cooking competitions. Throughout the afternoon, the savory and sweet jurors highlight the creativity of the participants. Among the award-winning preparations, Thiou de Maydouna’s trompe-l’oeil meatballs or Nermine’s signature cake with pears and almonds. The public was then able to personally taste the various savory and sweet preparations. Verdict? Not a crumb was left.

Nils Hollenstein

Photo of one: The public watches the designation of the best dishes during the cooking competition organized by the Vrac association. © Nils Hollenstein

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