This little piggy…

Dans le cochonWe all know where he went, and it’s one story that never ends well. At least not for the pig.

Le petit cochon goes to market all over France, and ends up in all kinds of dishes. Saucisson sec. Saucisse de Toulouse. Boudin. Pâté. As the saying goes, “Tout est bon dans le cochon.”

“Did you know that every part of the pig is edible?” asked my husband when we first moved to Lyon, feasting on the local specialty, cochonaille. In a pig’s ear! I did not know, nor did I particularly want to learn.

I knew that I loved bacon. I grew to enjoy its meatier cousin, les lardons. Nonetheless, I tried to limit my consumption of the pig – easier said than done, as the French tend to put a bit of pork in everything from lentils to quiche.

Now it seems that le cochon has gone not to market but to city hall; he’s even gone to school. This little piggy is square at the centre of a raging debate. One that touches on a subject very dear to French hearts. La cantine.

Education is national in France but school lunches are managed by the municipal council. That means that local notables get to decide what will be on the menu. French custom and national tradition demand a freshly prepared, hot midday meal to be offered to every school child at a modest price, no more than the cost of catering and serving it. Each local school has its system for collecting the money for the cantine, and those in low income brackets may qualify for a free lunch.

Whether or not pork should be on the menu in a country where so many do not eat it is a recurring question. The suggestion that petit Louis or Anaïs should be deprived of their sausage is profoundly shocking to some. Others claim that religious belief has no place in school and are appalled that fish should be offered on Friday, a hold over from the Catholic tradition. Why not allow an alternative, pork-free menu for Muslims and other non-pork eaters, others have dared to suggest?

Why not, indeed? And here’s another, even more radical thought: how about a vegetarian alternative? That would solve the pork problem and give all those so inclined a healthier menu alternative. I am certain that in English-speaking countries there are multiple gluten-free and non-allergenic options available.

I fear, however, that the mere mention of this idea may send the French calling, “wee wee wee wee all the way home.”

Without wishing to open a can of worms (especially over lunch) what are your thoughts? Pork or not?

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20 thoughts on “This little piggy…

  1. Crikey!! To pork or not to pork, that is the question. I love the idea of a vegetarian option given at each meal. However, knowing the treatment (sadly) given to the vegetarian husband (only in restaurants mind you) when we were in France, I am not sure if that idea would be gladly received. However, that was thirteen years ago and I am sure times are a changing, no?

  2. I took my daughter to the local Auberge on Good Friday. She hates fish. The lady told us there was brandade de morue. I explained that she doesn’t eat fish. Oh – then she can have the alternative …. a piece of fish with veg! I fear we are a long way from understanding what vegetarian means but I would love to see the option in schools and I think many parents, even in little backwater’s like this would welcome it. As for the porc – I’m afraid the French will be shouting oui, oui, oui for a long time to come 😉

    1. Ha, ha! Oui, oui, oui…that’s how I will think of it now. I’m not a vegetarian either, but sometimes regret the lack of fresh veggies on the menu.

      1. I’d like to be a vegetarian like my daughter, but… I can’t resist à la saucisse de Toulouse grilled with a mixed salad… pardon, votre Honneur! 🙂

    1. Agree that the French system has the advantage of raising well-rounded kids who are not fussy eaters. The cantine menu should be determined regardless of race or creed, but a little flexibility would go a long way.

  3. I ended up arguing with myself about this, so I won’t offer an opinion. Suffice it to say that France is not the place to be a vegetarian. I’m not one, although I like veggie food. But a friend who eats neither fish nor meat is regularly offered a ham omelette as an alternative in restaurants.

    1. Oh, dear! You’re right – France, for all its gourmet glory, does not do well by vegetarians. I’m also a bit divided on this, as I can see both sides: the long-standing gastronomic traditions as opposed to the food trends of the moment. But like many people of a – ahem – certain age, we are trying to eat more healthily these days and that means less animal fat. Not easy in the land of foie gras!

  4. Thank God for the French .Eating habits have nothing to do with religion .Many Stone Age eating customs are myths that may have had health benefits thousands of years ago ,but have no place in modern society .France has it’s eating customs , if you want to live their you should accept them in schools and other public forums.Follow your personal customs at home if you wish .Multi -culturism ,a bullshit concept, does not require accommodation of all medieval customs .

    1. For once, we almost agree Dad! 😉 When in Rome and all that…the French are right to hold on to their food traditions, and newcomers should adapt, but the unwillingness of the French to accommodate different tastes, not necessarily driven by religion, limits their potential to evolve. C’est dommage!

  5. I have a deep respect for vegetarians and think they should be able to eat as well as everyone else and it’s a shame that restaurants broadly are not very inventive about vegetarian dishes. But I love pork product and have to remember not to overindulge !

  6. Serving Pork in France is fine. It’s good traditional fare but surely they don’t serve pork as he meal of choice every day in schools. Even if the don’ serve Roast beef because of their dislike of Brits surely they also serve lamb. It is then just a short step to having other alternatives on the menu.
    Vegetarianism is on the rise with children of school age and can still be a healthy alternative. So perhaps if they started catering for those who prefer that option it would also suit the Muslims in school? And on the days that lamb is served they should be OK with that.
    I’m a believer that religion doesn’t have a place in school unless of course it’s in lessons about them all. But if you can cater for the cultural needs of French schoolchildren you can cater for the cultural needs of other children who attend school on a regular basis. It’s usually fairly easy to have a second meal cooking alongside the first since the potatoes and veg would likely be common to both and knowing numbers means there’s no wastage. Making some small concessions with meals is merely showing a small degree of tolerance to strangers among us who we want to become friends instead of outsiders.
    xxx Massive Hugs Mel xxx

    1. Dislike of Brits? In France?! 😉 The only reason the French schoolkids don’t get roast beef all that often is cost. Pork is a cheaper option but all of the meats are on the menu: lamb, rabbit, chicken, fish….overall, the weeks are well-balanced across the various options, but I’m with you – why not keep a bit of extra veg on hand for those who abstain from meat? So nice to see you checking in, David, especially given your frustrations with the WordPress notifications! Right back atcha with the hugs! xo

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