French food politics

French government slams Lyon mayor’s decision to serve meat-free school meals

Schools must keep students apart to respect Covid distancing rules. Lyon has decided to offer a meat-free meal, with no choices, to streamline service. The move has angered the government.
Schools must keep students apart to respect Covid distancing rules. Lyon has decided to offer a meat-free meal, with no choices, to streamline service. The move has angered the government. © Damien Meyer/AFP

The city of Lyon has decided to remove meat from school lunches to streamline service to respect Covid distancing measures, a move that has angered the government. The city’s Green mayor accuses the government of making a political issue of something that had already been put in place last year by his predecessor.

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Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin criticised the decision by Lyon city hall to serve a single menu, without meat, in the city’s 2016 school cafeterias, saying the Green party is imposing a “scandalous ideology” and “moralist policies”, on top of offering up an “unacceptable insult” to French farmers and butchers.

But the city says there is no ideology. In a message to local officials on 15 February summarising the city’s measures to fight the spread of Covid, deputy mayor Stephanie Leger said schools would be serving “a single menu without meat to more quickly serve students and streamline meals.”

The government requires students to sit two metres apart while eating, which means fewer can be served at the same time, requiring more lunch services in a day.

The meals are designed to appeal to the largest numbers of students. But in Lyon, considered the culinary capital of France, forgoing meat can strike a nerve.

"In the city of gastronomy, the Green majority is taking advantage of the health crisis to pass ideological measures without any consultation,” accused Beatrice de Montille, a Lyon city counsellor from the opposition right-wing Republicains party.

Mayor Gregory Doucet had promised to offer the choice of a vegetarian meal for students by 2022, but city hall insists the current decision is not a way to push that through early.

The meals are not entirely vegetarian. They are without meat, but include fish or eggs. They will be served through the end of the Easter holidays, at the beginning of May.

Food as politics

Since municipal elections in June 2020, Lyon has been run by a coalition of the Greens and leftist parties. Doucet is one of a number of Green party politicians to win control of major cities. He beat Gerard Collomb, who was the mayor of Lyon for 18 years, and who had joined Emmanuel Macron’s LaRem party.

Doucet says the government’s current outrage is political, because Collomb had put in place “exactly the same measure” after schools resumed in May 2020, after the first Covid confinement, and no one complained.

"That the right, which allied itself with my predecessor during the municipal elections, is crying ideology today makes me smile,” said Doucet Friday on French public radio.

Farmers upset

"Let's stop putting ideology on our children's plates," wrote Agriculture Minister Julien Denormandie on Twitter on Sunday “Let’s just give [students] what they need to grow. Meat is part of it.”

Farmers are panning a protest on Monday outside of Lyon city hall.

"We will not let everything go under the pretext of a health crisis!" said the Fdsea farming union and the young farmers of the Rhone said in a joint statement.

School lunches are a large outlet for French meat. Last week Denormandie called for more young beef to be served in schools.

“The young beef sector… is unfortunately not known enough,” he wrote in a statement. “Public orders must show the example by supporting these producers. With more than 1.2 billion meals served each year, school meals are a terrific mechanism.”

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