Food fight: meatless school meals trigger the fury in France


LE PECQ, FRANCE – By removing meat from the menu of school canteens, the environmental mayor of one of France’s best-known food towns has sparked a storm of protests and debates as the country increasingly questions the environmental costs of its meaty eating habits.
Children in Lyon who were regularly offered choices such as beef and chicken in rich sauces found their missing meat option this week upon returning from school vacation. In its place: a four-course, meatless meal that Lyon City Hall says will be faster and easier to serve to children who, due to the coronavirus pandemic, must be separated during lunch to avoid infections.

City Hall insists meatless meals are temporary and school canteens will once again offer meat options when social distancing rules are relaxed and children once again have more time to dwell on their choices food and eat.

And meatless menus always contain animal protein. This week’s planned main dishes include fish on Monday and Friday, and eggs – as an omelet or hard-boiled with a creamy sauce – on the other days. Children are also given salad starters, a dairy product – often cheese or yogurt – and a dessert.

Yet the farmers saw red. Some drove farm vehicles, cows and goats in protest Monday in Lyon, which is fiercely proud of its rich restaurant culture and signature dishes, many of which are meat-based.

The protesters’ banners and placards touted the consumption of meat, proclaiming “the meat of our fields a healthy child” and “Stopping the meat is a guarantee of weakness against the coronavirus to come”.

The government’s Minister of Agriculture, Julien Denormandie, also intervened, accusing the town hall of Lyon of “putting ideology on our children’s plates”. He and other critics have argued that the measure would penalize children from poorer families who may not be able to eat meat outside of school.

“From a nutritional point of view, it is absurd to stop serving meat,” the minister said on RTL radio on Tuesday. “From a social point of view, it’s shameful. ”

Although fueled by the quintessentially French obsession with food and the country’s powerful agricultural lobby, the fury has also grown and taken on a political tinge due to the French electoral calendar.

A wave of victories by green candidates, including the mayor of Lyon, in last year’s municipal elections dealt a blow to the centrist party of French President Emmanuel Macron. Their success reflects growing concerns in France about the environmental damage caused by intensive agriculture and other ecological problems. With more local elections expected later this year, Lyon’s school lunch disputes offered a taste of wider political battles to come.

Lyon City Hall said serving the same meal to all children, instead of offering them their usual meat and meatless dishes, would reduce the time they take for lunch. City hall said it only has two hours to feed 29,000 children, which is a more difficult schedule to meet when classes need to be separated in canteens to minimize viral infections. The town hall said it also opted for meatless meals because they are suitable for all children, including those who usually do not eat meat for religious, dietary or other reasons.

The mayor, Gregory Doucet, said he is a flexitarian, ate reasonable amounts of meat and does not try to force vegetarianism on children.

“Being able to provide a hot seated meal for all children is important,” he told BFM-TV. “It’s Lyon, the capital of gastronomy. For us, flavor is also essential. ”


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