Successive Covid-19 lockdowns may have given people in France, as elsewhere, a newfound taste for home cooking, but one delicacy has yet to worm its way back onto the nation’s plates: snails.
With the country’s restaurants closed since the start of a second lockdown on October 30, producers in France’s “escargot” heartland of Bourgogne are battling to stay afloat.
Snails cooked in garlic butter is a classic of French cuisine that has long inspired a mix of fascination and horror among tourists, particularly Britons who recoil at the idea of eating the molluscs.
While few French people buy snails on a regular basis – they are generally rolled out during parties or the holiday season – they still regularly feature on restaurant menus.
But with restaurants looking set to remain shuttered for several more weeks as France battles to bring down stubbornly high Covid-19 infections, snail farmers fear for their future.
“In 2020, my sales were down by 33 per cent more than forecast,” producer Herve Menelot said, adding that he did not pay himself a wage from June to October 2020 and was living off his savings.
“This year is the same. I have no [trade] show coming up, no farmers’ market, no restaurants. We’re not very optimistic, Menelot said, adding that he feared he may have to wind down his business.
Olivier Dard, another producer, said his turnover had halved in 2020. Dard was forced to take a job with the local council to supplement the family’s income.
The French snail industry is made up of hundreds of small farmers who have been struggling to compete with cheaper imports from Eastern Europe.
Only five per cent of the 30,000 tonnes of snails consumed every year in France – a protected species that cannot be scooped up off a path and sold – are French.
Snail farmers have received small amounts of aid from the state but say it is not enough to offset their losses.