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

FILE - In this Jan.18, 2019 file photo, French President Emmanuel Macron meets pupils as he visits a school canteen in Saint-Sozy, southwestern France. By taking meat off the menu at school canteens, the Green Party mayor of Lyon has kicked up a storm of protest and debate in a country increasingly asking questions about the environmental costs of its meaty dietary habits. With a meatless four-course meal that Lyon City Hall says will be quicker and easier to serve to children who must be kept socially distanced while eating lunch to avoid coronavirus infections. (Ludovic Marin/Pool Photo via AP, FILE)
FILE - In this Jan.18, 2019 file photo, French President Emmanuel Macron meets pupils as he visits a school canteen in Saint-Sozy, southwestern France. By taking meat off the menu at school canteens, the Green Party mayor of Lyon has kicked up a storm of protest and debate in a country increasingly asking questions about the environmental costs of its meaty dietary habits. With a meatless four-course meal that Lyon City Hall says will be quicker and easier to serve to children who must be kept socially distanced while eating lunch to avoid coronavirus infections. (Ludovic Marin/Pool Photo via AP, FILE) (Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

LE PECQ – 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.”