A healthfood store in Rouyn-Noranda, Canada, has received hundreds of free loaves and croissants this week, as part of a protest by baker Leandre Bergeron against regulations prohibiting him from selling bread prepared in his home.
A former French professor at Montreal’s Concordia University, Bergeron is now a self-styled rebel baker fighting for the rights of home producers. It is also a fight against what Romeo Bouchard, the head of the Union Paysanne, calls “the McDonald-ization of our food,” a conspiracy in which “the pretext of hygiene has been used for 50 years to eliminate the little producers”.
In a letter sent to the government-run Quebec Food Inspection Centre (QFIC) on 9 January, Bergeron stated: “I do not need to ask anyone’s permission to make a product with my own hands and exchange it with other responsible citizens. In this case, the laws of the market work very well without any interference.
“The demand is there for a bread that is not factory-made. I make this bread in my kitchen, which any customer can visit as I work. The responsible citizens who are my customers are satisfied with the product and buy it at a price they consider reasonable.”
Bergeron has been baking bread for 20 years, when he gave up a life in academia, and said that he had never encountered any problems until last year, when he was informed that he needed a permit to sell more than 100kg of bread of month, according to Quebec Department of Agriculture regulations.
With an operation producing close to 200kg a month, Bergeron caught the attention of food inspectors, who insist that to exempt Bergeron from the regulations will be unfair and pose a public health risk.
Laval Tremblay, regional director of the QFIC, told the National Post: “When people buy a product, they want to be sure, as much as possible, that they are buying something free of pathogens. The only way to ensure that is subjecting him to inspection.”
Bergeron can circumvent the regulations by offering his baked goods for free, and without advertising, which he vows to continue doing indefinitely. A canister placed near to the cash register accepts “alms for the baker” and he says that regular customers have been very generous with their donations.