Food fight: Meat-free school meals spark furor in France

By JOHN LEICESTER
Associated Press

LE PECQ, France (AP) — By taking meat off the menu at school canteens, the ecologist mayor of one of France’s most famously gastronomic cities has kicked up a storm of protest and debate as the country increasingly questions the environmental costs of its meaty dietary habits.

Children in Lyon who were regularly offered such choices as beef and chicken in rich sauces found their meat option missing this week when they returned from school holidays. In its place: a meatless four-course meal that Lyon City Hall says will be quicker and easier to serve to children who, because of the coronavirus pandemic, must be kept apart during lunch to avoid infections.

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

And the meat-free menus still contain animal proteins. This week’s planned main courses include fish on Monday and Friday and eggs — either as omelettes or hard boiled with a creamy sauce — on other days. Children also get salad starters, a milk product — often cheese or yoghurt — and dessert.

Still, farmers saw red. Some drove farm vehicles, cows and goats in protest on Monday into Lyon, which is fiercely proud of its rich restaurant culture and signature dishes, many of them meaty.

Protesters’ banners and placards extolled meat-eating, proclaiming “meat from our fields = a healthy child” and “Stopping meat is a guarantee of weakness against coronaviruses to come.”

The government’s agriculture minister, Julien Denormandie, also weighed in, accusing Lyon City Hall of “putting ideology in our children’s plates.” He and other critics argued the measure would penalize children from poorer families who might 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 Tuesday on RTL radio. “From a social point of view, it is shameful.”

Although fueled by the quintessentially French obsession with food and the country’s powerful farming lobby, the furor has also gathered steam and taken on a political hue because of France’s electoral calendar.

A wave of wins by green candidates, including the mayor of Lyon, in municipal elections last year dealt a blow to the centrist party of French President Emmanuel Macron. Their success reflected growing concerns in France about the environmental damage from intensive farming and other green issues. With more local elections expected later this year, the arguing over Lyon’s school meals offered a foretaste of broader political battles to come.

Lyon City Hall said serving the same meal to all children, instead of offering them their usual meat and meat-free options, would shorten the time they take for lunch. City Hall said it has just two hours to feed 29,000 children, which is a harder schedule to keep when classes have to be kept apart in canteens to minimize virus infections. City Hall said it also opted for meat-free meals because they suit all children, including those who habitually don’t eat meats for religious, dietary or other reasons.

The mayor, Gregory Doucet, said he is a flexitarian, eats meat in reasonable amounts, and isn’t trying to force vegetarianism on children.

“Being able to offer a seated hot meal to all the children is important,” he told broadcaster BFM-TV. “This is Lyon, the capital of gastronomy. For us, flavor is also essential.”

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

SportsPlus

Local News

Comedian Bob Newhart, deadpan master of sitcoms and telephone monologues, dies at 94

Local News

Trump has given no official info about his medical care for days since an assassination attempt

Local News

Lake Charles Police Department to host free National Night Out community event

life

Cajun Music and Food Festival introduces inaugural accordion contest

Crime

7/18: Calcasieu Parish Sheriff announces arrest list

Business

BREAKING: Smoke from Calcasieu Refinery blamed on flare

Jim Gazzolo

Jim Gazzolo column: Goff ready to turn the page on 2023

Local News

Toddler dies after shooting himself in the face, sheriff says

McNeese Sports

Early work for Cowboys

Local News

WEATHER WATCH: Torrential downpours in forecast

life

Chicken Fest: See plenty of poultry in motion Saturday at West Cal Arena

Local News

Enterprise Boulevard project goal: Strengthen connection between north, south LC

Local News

PHOTO GALLERY: Victory Day at Cowboy Stadium

Local News

Victory Day: McNeese players create field of smiles for special needs fans

Local News

Multiple failures, multiple investigations: Unraveling the attempted assassination of Donald Trump

Crime

7/17: Calcasieu Parish Sheriff announces arrest list

McNeese Sports

Fixer Upper

life

Library invites feedback on resident needs, library priorities

Local News

Speaker Johnson: ‘We will make American safe again’

life

PHOTO GALLERY: Summer Culinary Camp

Local News

Parlez-vous francais? French table group meets to practice their French-speaking skills

life

Exchange project allows teenagers to visit different states for free

Jim Beam

Jim Beam column: Assassination turmoil averted

Local News

Candidates begin qualifying for November election today