Serving a single menu in schools, without meat, is it an appropriate measure in times of pandemic, to avoid crowds in school canteens when choosing a dish? Or is it a political drift of environmentalists who take advantage of the health crisis to impose their ideology or even give in to religious extremism? Controversy has been going on – and never better said – in France since the city of Lyon, in the hands of the environmental party EELV, announced that starting this week it will propose a unique, almost vegetarian menu – it still includes eggs and fish – in schools.
The measure is only provisional and was also implemented last spring, without any controversy, by then-mayor Gérard Collomb, a member of President Emmanuel Macron’s innermost circle, for whom he served as Interior Minister. Even so, the same decision taken now by the new councilor, the ecologist Grégory Doucet, has unleashed the umpteenth national political controversy and has even opened a fissure in an Executive where the ministers of the left and right have suffered multiple frictions in recent times.
The controversy also arises when France discusses alleged “Islamo-leftism” in the universities and after the approval of a law to combat “Islamist separatism”, which has also led to accusations of “right-wing” government in the face of the 2022 elections. What is served – or is not being served – in a country where students of confessions like the Muslim or the Jewish do not eat pork and other meats only if they are treated in a certain way can easily become a political throwing weapon, and some sectors are already waving it. Although, as in the case of Lyon, even before the health crisis, when students could choose between two different main dishes, one of them based on meat or fish, half of the primary school students never selected the meat one by taste, family tradition or religious precept, depending on The world.
“I’m not even a vegetarian,” said the mayor of Lyon on Tuesday –homeland girl of the inspiring new kitchen Paul Bocuse– on the BFM TV network. The councilor, who has denounced a controversy that only “diverts the gaze from the current social and environmental crises”, insisted on what he has been repeating since the quarrel broke out: that the measure is strictly “sanitary” and temporary. It seeks to “speed up the service and thus reduce congestion” in the dining rooms, responding to the tightening of the health protocol of the Ministry of Education, which now imposes distances in the dining room of two meters for differentiated groups of students. Although for now no other town has opted for a single menu as a solution, this will not last long either – in principle, until Easter – and at no time has it been planned to completely eliminate meat from the menu, which will progressively return although, Doucet pointed out, with a more ecological vision: less quantity, but higher quality and from local farmers.
Guarantees that have not appeased spirits neither in Lyon nor in Paris, where controversy has fully exploded in a government that seeks to print its own ecological stamp and that, in the last European and municipal elections, saw its environmental rivals advance in fiefdoms like Lyon.
“Besides being an unacceptable insult to French farmers and butchers, we see that the moralistic and elitist politics of the verdes it excludes the popular classes. Many children often have nothing but the dining room to eat meat. It is a scandalous ideology ”, the Interior Minister opened the war of declarations, Gérald Darmanin, echoing the accusations of the conservative opposition of Lyon and also of the national one. Also the Minister of Agriculture, Julien Denormandie, has asked “to stop putting ideology on the plates of our children.” “Political environmentalism, today, has lost its social dimension,” he lamented. On Sunday, he asked the Rhone prefecture to study whether Lyon’s unique menu complies with dietary rules. In response to a question from this newspaper, the prefecture confirmed on Tuesday that it will carry out a “control of the legality of the measure.” During the weekend, other ministers joined in the criticism, such as the Public Accounts minister, Olivier Dussopt, who considered the measure “antisocial and doctrinaire.”
The internal break came on Monday, when the Minister of Ecological Transition, Barbara Pompili, distanced herself from her colleagues and lamented that they have fallen into a “prehistoric debate, where old clichés are used, such as that vegetarian food would be unbalanced.” In fact, the minister was promoting the bill to combat climate change that the Government has just presented and that, as he recalled while visiting a school where the children tasted a “delicious and balanced” vegetarian menu, he also plans to “experience a daily vegetarian option in the children’s dining rooms”.
Without explicitly alluding to the controversy and attacks by his ministers, President Macron, visiting an agro-livestock complex this Tuesday, defended a “complete feeding model” and stressed that the necessary agricultural transition to adapt to the new times and Needs cannot be done “on the basis of invectives, prohibitions and demagoguery.”
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