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?