Try to imagine a French restaurant without filet mignon or Boeuf Bourguignon. It used to be unthinkable; now it's commonplace.
Since October, bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or mad-cow disease, has had tremendous effects on French food habits. It has gradually affected aspects of everyday life from the family dinner hour to school lunches.
In a country where food equals pleasure, it has become a serious issue. Many cooks have been ignoring beef, with sales having fallen 35 percent since October.
According to a recent survey of French households, 45 percent said they have entirely stopped eating beef or reduced their beef consumption. One-third said they had found alternatives to beef and would eat less red meat in the future. Most public-school cafeterias are no longer serving beef in any form.
Even the award-winning chef of L'Arpege in Paris has decided to focus his dishes more on vegetables.
The distrust of beef is also contributing to a record boom in organic food consumption in France, which has already risen 25 percent each year since 1994.
Organic stores and chains - including Planet Bio, Canal Bio, Naturalia - have opened all around the country, though the Paris area accounts for one-third of the national consumption of organic food.
The French call it "bio-attitude," and see it as part of a back-to-nature movement. Suddenly, an organic lifestyle has become trendy. One of the poshest restaurants in Paris, the Philip Starck-designed BON, has a sophisticated and expensive organic food store.
Noodles have also captivated Parisians, as has a soup bar in the Bastille neighborhood. There, owner Anne-Catherine Bley offers original flavors such as carrots-coriander, pumpkin-bacon, or mint-peas.
"This 'soup comeback' was bound to happen," she says. "The Parisians don't have time anymore to cook soups at home. And they find soups healthy."
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor