Last week we showed up to school at the ungodly hour of 6:15am for a field trip to Rungis Market, the world's largest wholesale food market that covers nearly 600 acres of land just outside Paris near Orly Airport. (Some other figures to give you the idea of the scale: the market's day-to-day activities include some 1300 companies that collectively employ over 12,000 people). Consisting of a vast industrial network of warehouses, Rungis couldn't be more different from the quaint neighborhood open-air markets that you see in French towns and cities.
The warehouses are organized by product type, kind of like a larger, gastronomic version of Ikea. Once we were all decked out in thin white coats and caps provided on the premises (sort of a cross between what you might wear in a laboratory and an operating room), our guides led us through the poultry, beef, fish, produce and flower halls, before concluding the tour at one of several on-site brasseries for brunch.
Despite the fact that we arrived out our first destination around 7am, early by normal people's standards, most of the day's trading had already been completed. The fish, seafood and poultry halls open as early as 2 or 3am, giving the impression that activity at Rungis never really ceases.
Undoubtedly the most memorable sight was the hall where red meat is kept, even for the cuisine students who by Superior level are pretty much desensitized to butchery. I've included a few pictures in the slideshow below (probably don't click through over your morning breakfast or whatever), but the best way I can describe it is how I would imagine a slaughterhouse would look; entire carcasses hang in neat rows by large hooks, the skin peeled off revealing the lifeless brute's powerful muscles, as men with clipboards and white lab coats covered in cow's blood scurry around taking notes. A vegetarian from my class had to leave just a few minutes after entering because it was too overwhelming.
The rest of the tour was less interesting, either because the section had closed by the time we got there (fish and seafood) or else it consisted of looking at rows and rows of boxes (produce). What made me think, though, was reading the labels of the boxes; apples from Greece, green beans from Kenya, etc. Yes, it was cool and impressive to see such a vast array of food in one place, but at what cost?
When I thought about how much energy it took to get all the products to Rungis, and how much more it would require to transport them to their next destination, it made me feel worse than anything I saw in the meat halls.