Pondering on how best to equip yourself for life in the coming year, indeed decade? You could enrol on a course at one of France’s most famous political science colleges where students have been queuing up to attend a new course on the nation’s “art de vivre”: the essence of the Gallic way of life. Lecturers and professors at Sciences Po Lille, in northern France, have formulated modules in the likes of food technology, food security, plant-based “meat”, the power of organic labels, sexism in the kitchen, umami and something called “gastro-diplomacy”.
The school dispatched a student this week to promote the courses to the wider world and Clémence Ricart, who says the course is nicknamed BMV, short for “boire, manger, vivre” told Le Monde: “It is a master’s course that unites us around one passion: the world of gastronomy and food.” Ricart added: “Given the climate emergency, food will be at the heart of global challenges.”
Indeed, it is as if President Macron is once again attempting to galvanise the reputation of France as a leader in gastronomy to assure its place in the world. The nation is perceived by many to have lost its crown of culinary superiority in recent years, as international tastes have trampled over its traditions, fast food reigns across the country and trends for Asian flavours and leaner cooking methods put the boot in further.
So will France once again reign supreme? We must not be threatened by such flambéed flag-waving. We must deflate this puffed-up jingoistic Comté-infused soufflé. And, if you’re tempted to hop over the Channel and sign up for these courses (and good luck with that, what with your PCR tests and passenger locator form and general ban on Britons actually travelling to France) think again. With the New Year upon us I am here to save you from the bother of enrolling on a three-year course on food and drink in all its guises. For here is Sitwell’s Totally Random Guide to Drinking, Eating and Living. As we tell students in fresher’s week: read it, weep and conquer the world.
Declutter (the drinks table)
As it’s important to declutter your home right now, start with the drinks table or cupboard. See all those stickies, that weird little bottle of redcurrant-scented sloe gin you got in your stocking? Gather it all up, pour into a pan, toss in old tangerines, that cinnamon stick on the Christmas tree and any wine lingering at the bottom of bottles that might be lying around the house. Simmer and invite in all your ghastly neighbours to drink it.
Dry January? Instead, drink the month dry. Dry white wine that is. I once asked the former assistant of my great-uncle, the writer Osbert Sitwell, about his late employer’s drinking habits. “For the last 15 years of his life Sir Osbert never drank,” Frank Magro told me. “Really,” I said. “Not even wine?”
“But of course,” Magro replied quickly, “Sir Osbert drank wine.” Since then, I’ve worked to assume that mantle of sobriety trying only to ever drink wine. Or champagne, which is wine. As is port. And sherry.
Always chill your tonic water. This then calls for less ice, thus less dilution of good gin. (A Fishers gin and Double Dutch tonic, if you’re asking, with dried orange and hand-foraged sea herbs – not for me, of course. I only drink wine, see above.)