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‘We Feed You, and We’re Dying’

Farmers display the gifts and grievances of French rural life at the 2016 Salon International de l’Agriculture.

Européen the bull. Photo by Karl Steel.

Cerise, a smoke-gray Bazadaise cow with a world-weary expression, ignored the Parisians who mobbed her pen and jostled for selfies. She’d traveled from Landes, in southwest France, all the way to the City of Light, to serve as the mascot of the 2016 Salon International de l’Agriculture.

At the Salon, a vast country fair that takes place annually in Paris, farmers exhibit prize bulls; children clamber inside the cabin of a combine harvester; and families chow down on regional delicacies at picnic tables. Despite the signs warning them to “respect the animals,” the 650,000 visitors can’t resist petting the fair’s 3,800 sheep, goats, cows, horses, and pigs, many of whom represent heritage breeds rare outside, or even within, France: Brittany’s golden Nantaise cow; the Villard-de-Lans cow from the Massif du Vercors, which sports a curly “chignon”; the pink-and-black Basque piglets snuggled under a towering, fern-roofed hut. A white Charolais bull weighing about 1,500 pounds and wearing a Viking-like studded harness was named Européen.

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