School Food in Lyons, France: Where Taste and Culture Matter
Guest Post By Nicholas Morin
Directed here from an article in the New York Times, I've been interested in reading this blog and I thought I could share something with you in return: I live in Lyons, France, and I have a 6-year-old daughter. She eats at school every day, and I thought it might be interesting to share with you what she eats at her school.
Obesity is rising in France: from about 6% of the population in 1990, to a little under 10% today. But that's still very low compared to more than 25% in the US. And Wikipedia tells me that "while French youth culture has gravitated toward fast food and American eating habits (with an attendant rise in obesity), the French in general have remained committed to preserving certain elements of their food culture through such activities as including programs of 'taste acquisition' in their public schools".
Yes, my daughter has a "taste acquisition" class in school: it's part of the curriculum here to be taught about food, not just as something abstract (remember the "food pyramid"?), but official programs say children should be taught about different tastes. And they are also encouraged to talk about what they feel when they taste something. Children are taught that food is something cultural, something you experience: food as taste and culture.
This cultural bias towards food and it's importance shows in what children eat when they eat at school. Even though each school contracts independently with a catering company, selecting offers from the marketplace, schools have to abide by national guidelines in the contracting process. Those guidelines mandate certain things about food security or waste management, but they also mandate things about the diet itself.
For instance, the guidelines require that each menu should have at least one dairy product, three courses, etc. At the local level, parents get the menu for every school day about three months in advance. Here's what my daughter had last week:
Monday: Grated carrots with a light vinaigrette; roasted chicken wing with cauliflower in a "béchamel sauce", aka "white sauce"; blue cheese; a fruit.
Tuesday: Cold vegetable pie with vinaigrette; fish with a tomato sauce; pasta; cheese; a fruit.
Wednesday: No School
Thursday: Green salad; veal with olives and beans; a yogurt; a fruit.
Friday: potato salad; cheese omelet with spinach; fresh goat cheese; a yogurt.
That's it. Does anything about this sound wrong to an American ear? Besides a lot of cheese?
Choice: There is no choice. Children don't get to choose if they'd rather have cauliflower or fries. It's mandatory: cauliflower for all! If your kid hates it--well, she'll eat better tomorrow: it's spinach day!
Better D.C. School Food is the official blog of Parents for Better D.C. School Food. We advocate replacing highly processed, sugary foods with wholesome, nutritious food in District of Columbia public schools to promote the health and well-being of all children. We partner with the D.C. Farm to School Network to promote the use of sustainably grown local farm goods in school meals.