A recent trip to France had me wandering up and down supermarket aisles, all in the interests of Alexander research. I wanted to know what French food packaging could tell me about body use. More so than in the UK, it seems that human and animal bodies are used to promote food. Not surprisingly, given its place in French life, the story begins with cheese.
First on my shopping list were the Coulommiers couple, both in traditional dress on the brightly coloured box. He holds the cheese in his open left hand, but scolds her with his right, as her eyes pop out and her hands grasp at the delicious box of creamy cheese. It’s a good example of Alexander end-gaining – her focus on the cheesy prize limits her awareness of what’s around her and her own body use.
Next up was Cousteron man. He comes from another strand of cheese marketing – the producer or farmer smiling broadly with farm or well-fed cows in the background. Eyes are twinkly, body language is open, one hand clasps the cheese. He’s reliable and trustworthy – you can safely pick this pack and trace its origins from your basket back to producer, animals and land. Given the sheer quantity of cheese made in France, it’s also a way of differentiating between brands, giving them a personal and local touch, marking them out from others of the same kind or region.
Further along the aisle I found a monk silently marketing another brand, conveying in a single hand gesture the heavenly taste and delicious secret of Chausee aux Moines. Occasionally animals are allowed to edge the humans aside and star on the box. Cows are often red, sometimes laughing, always content and friendly. Goats and sheep are modest, less flashy, perhaps for the more discerning cheese-eater.
The shelves of fromage exhausted, I moved on to ‘heritage’ food, where the human body in action is used to emphasise tradition, quality and natural simplicity. Body use seems better. Whether cracking walnuts by hand on a cake box, gathering additive-free salt or carrying milk churns to turn into butter, everyone seems balanced, upright and contentedly absorbed in their tasks. There are no extravagant gestures here, but more simple line drawings, a strong sense of workers getting on with the job, producing and advertising food with no excess effort or tension.
When food originates abroad rather than in France, the packaging still features humans, but often reinforces national stereotypes – a Samurai warrior on Japanese rice, a Canadian lumberjack on maple syrup, North African or Middle Eastern faces on couscous and spices. No people for post-Brexit British cheddar though – just Big Ben and a red London bus.
I found the most interesting food packaging just as I was heading to the checkout. A few kilometres from the supermarket is one of the largest Buddhist centres in France, producing a range of calming teas and infusions. These had their own distinctive display, with fluid drawings of horses, monkeys, birds and flowers in bright colours on reusable tins. It was the quarrelling cheese couple that had drawn me in, but the flowing animals that guided me home.