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?


La rentrée

shutterstock_80819302Every year in the final hours of August something astonishing happens in France.

During the long summer break, most people have gone away and, as they say in French, “il n’y a pas un chat” (literally: “there is not a cat”), meaning it’s so quiet you can hear a pin drop. They have rolled up the sidewalks and settled their brains for a long siesta.

Then, as if on cue, it all changes. One moment you’re basking by the pool, idly pondering whether to have an ice cream or a cold beer, and the next thing you know, they’ve packed up all the beach umbrellas and closed the bar. Your provincial town is suddenly showing signs of life. Traffic picks up and horns begin to honk. The shops, virtually empty just last week, are suddenly packed with bronzed refugees loading up on food and school supplies.

C’est la rentrée.

The French do not believe in halfway measures. They are either on or they’re off. Summer is off – the rentrée is on. And although they will fondly reminisce about their summer holidays in Corsica, la Côte d’Azur or Saint Malo, they know that the price to pay for all that vacation time is not to waste a minute in getting back to business.

For all the problems in France – the strikes, the complex labour negotiations, the high cost of doing business – the French, when they do work, work hard.

Although it’s been a few years since my student days and even since my own kids went to school, I’ve always loved that back-to-school buzz. After all that laying about in August, there’s a chill in the air and a spark of energy in people’s eyes. Who knows what the year ahead will hold? Anything is possible.

The real beginning of the year in France is not in January but September.

For the school kids, it’s a spanking new cartable (school bag) filled with supplies as per the teacher’s list (this list is no joke – it’s long and detailed down to quantities and brand names of pencils).

For the parents, it’s the whole organization of lives around the school calendar – from daycare to sports and leisure activities.

But it’s not just back to school. Politicians are back to their back-biting agenda, the media have done musical chairs (which of your favourite hosts will be on which program?) and a new season of news and entertainment begins. And for the working world, it’s back to business with a bang – we only have a few short months left in the year to get everything done.

So it’s time to put away my sunglasses, lace up my new shoes, and get back to work.

Vive la rentrée!