Pork or nothing: how school dinners are dividing France

The Guardian has an in depth article from France where, it says, the battle over national identity is being played out on children’s lunch plates.

When Aïcha Tabbakhe, a French nurse, went to fill out the forms for her children’s school dinners in her small town outside Paris, she was puzzled. The box she would usually tick to say that her Muslim children didn’t eat pork wasn’t there. “Confused, I called the town hall and I was bluntly told: ‘From now on, that’s the way it is,’” she said. “Pork or nothing.”

After years of French controversies over headscarves, pork has become the new battleground in the nation’s uneasy debate over national identity and the place of Islam. Bacon and sausage school dinners are being used by rightwing politicians to hammer home what it means to be French. Court battles and vicious political spats have erupted as protesters warn that controversial menu changes are sending a message to Muslim or Jewish children that to be truly French, they must eat roast pork. Politicians, as they go to war over the ham on school dinner plates, are fighting about the true meaning of French secularism and whether it has been hijacked and twisted by the right in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attacks.

Tabbakhe’s home town of Chilly-Mazarin – a town of about 20,000 people in L’Essonne, which nudges up against Orly airport to the south of Paris – is the latest of several run by rightwing mayors to announce they will scrap pork-free options in school canteens in the name of secularism. For 30 years, Chilly-Mazarin has provided non-pork alternatives to Muslim and Jewish children. But from November, that will stop. On days when the menu features dishes such as roast pork with mustard and courgette gratin, or Strasbourg sausage and organic lentils, or ham pasta bake, children whose families don’t eat pork for religious reasons will be offered nothing but the side dishes. The new mayor, Jean-Paul Beneytou, from Nicolas Sarkozy’s rightwing Les Républicains party, says this is a commonsense way to preserve public sector “neutrality”. But many parents, teachers and leftwing opposition politicians call it a deliberate stigmatisation of Islam that is cruel to children by playing politics with school lunches.

“It’s the impact on the children that has been the hardest,” says Tabbakhe. “My four-year-old daughter is too young to understand that she doesn’t eat pork. It’s not something she’s aware of and it’s not something we talk about. What am I supposed to tell her now? We tried to subtly tell her we didn’t eat pork at home. But she thought ‘pork’ was a type of dessert. She said, ‘Yes, I do eat it, it’s delicious.’ That would be funny if it wasn’t such an awful situation. She is totally confused and has picked up on the atmosphere. She’s crying at school and says she doesn’t want to eat at the canteen. My nine-year-old son went door to door with a parents’ association petition against this and got lots of signatures from non-Muslim parents who were upset. He said to me, ‘Don’t worry, Mum, I won’t eat it.’ He shouldn’t have to be worrying about this. School is supposed to be about learning and living together, not about this. Now my nine-year-old is starting to ask, ‘Why am I different?’…”

More at: Pork or nothing: how school dinners are dividing France

 

There’s much more in the full article, but what do you make of this move in France to ban pork-free alternatives from school meals?

Can you imagine anything similar happening here?

Please give us your reactions in the comments or via Twitter…

 

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