Back in the good old days—the 1980s—I got to spend a couple weeks touring across France on a business junket sponsored by the French government. The purpose, as our group of a dozen or so North American journalists was politely informed, was to showcase the wonders of French-made meatpacking and processing technology and equipment.
Along the way, of course, it was necessary to wine and dine our group, so that we would be properly “motivated” to file upbeat, complimentary stories about the companies and manufacturers we were visiting once we returned home.
Hey, ce n’est pas un problem. C’est tout bon.
It was all good.
Packaged along with the first-class sightseeing, however, was an in-depth tour of Brittany, France’s westernmost province known for its agricultural productivity. For a full week, we made lengthy visits to pork packing plants, toured a number of hog farms and even made a ceremonial stop at a shrine alongside a cobblestone road where village dignitaries had once presented a live pig to the maillot jaune, the leader of the Tour de France, some years ago.
Finally, after way too many early morning bus rides and late-night cocktails to bother counting, we were feted with a special “end of tour” reception in a huge, ornate conference room at city hall in Rennes, Brittany’s provincial capital.
The massive conference table where we were seated was so huge it could have accommodated the entire party that signed the Treaty of Versailles, and there were so many government officials in attendance it rivaled the sidelines at an NFL football game.
Minus the cheerleaders, unfortunately.
We sat through nearly an hour of speeches and toasts to the glories of Brittany’s agricultural progress—enhanced, we were reminded, by the innovative, labor-saving techno-miracles embodied in the French machinery we’d seen on display virtually everywhere we visited.
In fact, for decades before and since that memorable trip, the so-called “Brittany model” has been touted by French private-sector executives and government officials alike as the ideal way to counteract the slow decline of the country’s—and of Europe’s—farming and livestock regions. As is true in The States, western European countries are struggling with the dual challenges of declining population and disappearing manufacturing, with the consequent disruption of the economic growth vital to every country’s rural communities.