As Traditional Bakeries Disappear, the French Baguette Receives UNESCO Protection

The agency adds the “artisanal know-how and culture of baguette bread” to its intangible heritage list

Baker holds baguettes
The French baguette has officially been given UNESCO protection. Philippe Ramakers / EyeEm

A whopping six billion baguettes are sold in France every year, according to the National Federation of French Bakeries and Patisseries. France’s Observatoire du Pain—yes, that’s French for “Bread Observatory”—estimates that the French consume 320 baguettes every waking second.

Now, when the French eat their baguettes, they will officially be consuming a piece of United Nations-designated cultural heritage alongside their daily coffee, butter and jam.

On Wednesday, UNESCO added the “artisanal know-how and culture of baguette bread” to its list of “intangible cultural heritage,” which it defines as “traditions or living expressions inherited from our ancestors and passed on to our descendants” that should be safeguarded.

“It’s a good news in a complicated environment,” Dominique Anract, the president of France’s bakery federation, tells the New York Times Catherine Porter and Constant Méheut.

The “complicated environment” includes the growing challenges faced by mom-and-pop bakeries, as big businesses crowd them out and inflation prompts them to raise their prices.  

Since 1970, France has lost 400 artisanal bakeries each year, per the Times. Most of those losses have taken place in rural France, where large supermarkets and chains have driven out independent, family-owned businesses.

To make matters worse, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has increased the price of flour—one of the four ingredients needed to make a baguette, along with yeast, water and salt. Bakeries have had to incur these costs, which has forced them to raise the price of their offerings. 

“This UNESCO recognition is not what will help us get through the winter,” Pascale Giuseppi, who runs a bakery near the Champs-Élysées, tells the Times. “We still have bigger bills to pay.”

Still, the UNESCO decision is a win for Anract and others who lobbied for the organization to designate the baguette as cultural heritage. According to the Times, France submitted over 200 endorsements along with its bid, including letters from bakers and children’s drawings.

“It’s kind of a way of life,” Audrey Azoulay, UNESCO’s director general, tells CNN’s Joseph Ataman, Marguerite Lacroix and Saskya Vandoorne. “There is always a boulangerie nearby, you can go and buy fresh affordable bread and you meet people, meet with bakers; it’s a very important element of social cohesion.”

The baguette is not the only new item UNESCO added to its cultural heritage list. The 2022 additions include Spain’s practice of manual bell ringing, Slovenia’s beekeeping and Kun Lbokator, a traditional martial art in Cambodia.

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