LYON, France – Grégory Doucet, Lyon’s meek mayor of the Greens, hardly appears to be a revolutionary. But he upset France by announcing last month that lunch menus for 29,000 Lyonese children would no longer include meat.
An outrage! An ecological dictation that could signal the end of French gastronomy and even French culture! Ministers in President Emmanuel Macron’s government clashed. If Lyon, the city of beef snouts and pig ears, saucisson and kidneys, could do something like that, the apocalypse would certainly be imminent.
“The response has been pretty amazing,” said the 47-year-old Doucet.
He is a short man whose mischievous expression and goatee give him the air of one of Dumas’ three musketeers. As a political freshman elected last year, he clearly finds it a little ridiculous that he, an apostle of less, ends up having more, sitting under a 25-foot ceiling in a cavernous office of the mayor that is covered in brocade and Busts of his ancestors. He is incredulous that optimizing a local school menu has divided the nation.
“My decision was purely pragmatic,” he emphasized with sparkling eyes – a means of speeding up lunch in socially distant times by offering a single menu instead of the traditional choice of two dishes.
Not so, thundered Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin. He tweeted that dropping meat was an “unacceptable insult to French farmers and butchers” that betrayed an “elitist and moralistic” attitude. Agriculture Minister Julien Denormandie described the mayor’s embrace for the meatless lunch as “socially shameful” and “aberrational” from a nutritional point of view.
All this led Barbara Pompili, Minister for Ecological Change, to speak of the “prehistoric” views of these men, who were full of “trite clichés” and actually called two of their cabinet colleagues Neanderthals.
This heated exchange about little illustrated several things. Mr Macron’s government and party, La République en Marche, remains a troubled marriage from right and left. The growing popularity of the Greens, who rule not only Lyon but also Bordeaux and Grenoble, has exacerbated a cultural conflict between urban environmental crusaders and defenders of French rural tradition.
Last but not least, nothing makes the French as dyspeptic as disagreements about food.
The mayor moved to a city with an intense gastronomic tradition. In the Boucherie François on the banks of the Rhône, a hundred-year-old company, the meat culture of Lyon is shown in abundance. The calf’s liver and kidneys were shiny; There were plenty of roast beef pieces wrapped in pork fat; the heads of yellow and white chickens lolled on a counter; The saucissons, some with pistachios, each took on a cylindrical shape. The pie, wrapped in pastries, had a core of foie gras. and pigs’ trotters and ears betrayed the carnivorous tendencies of this city.
“The mayor made a mistake,” said François Teixeira, a butcher who has been with François for 19 years. “It’s not good for Lyon’s image.”
Certainly the mayor’s decision came at a sensitive time. The law in France has expressed outrage that politically correct environmental dogmatism is forcing the country towards a future of bicycles, electric cars, veganism, locavores, negative, planet-saving growth and general joylessness – something that is far from Filling of foie gras for personal delicacy.
Last year, Pierre Hurmic, the mayor of the Greens in Bordeaux, struck a nerve when he rejected the city’s traditional Christmas tree for being “a dead tree”. Mr Doucet’s culinary step was part of an “ideological agenda”, as the right-wing weekly newspaper Valeurs Actuelles announced in a cover story. “The Lyon canteens were just a pretext.”
Mr Doucet, who describes himself as “flexitarian” or someone who prefers vegetables but also eats a little meat, argues that the Ministry of Education forced his hand. By doubling the social distancing in schools to two meters or more than six feet, the mayor had to speed up lunch by offering just one dish.
“There’s a math equation,” he said. “You have the same number of tables, but you have fewer children to put up and you can’t start your lunch break at 10 o’clock.”
But why nothing meat? The mayor, who has a 7 year old in elementary school, rolled his eyes. “We didn’t go to a vegetarian menu! Every day the children can eat fish or eggs. “Since a significant number of students did not eat meat already, he said,” We have only taken the lowest common denominator. “
It is not an ideological decision, said Doucet, even if he intends during his six-year tenure to adjust the school menus to “a larger proportion of vegetable proteins”.
The Mayor continued, “Most of the time there isn’t much choice these days. You don’t have a choice between going to a museum, the theater, or the cinema. It is indecent for the right-wing opposition to say that I am trampling on our freedoms in a state of emergency. “
Mr Macron has assumed a balancing act between embracing a green future and, as he put it last year, rejecting the “Amish model” for France. The president tries to distinguish rational from punitive or extreme environmental protection.
The president, who is expanding his network as usual before the regional elections in June, wants to address conservative farmers and at the same time attract some of the green votes. During a recent visit to a farm, he attacked attempts to forge a new type of agriculture based on “abuse, bans and demagoguery”. In an obvious reference to the Lyon fiasco, he said that “common sense” should be a priority in a balanced diet for children, noting, “We lose a lot of time in idiotic divisions.”
His government has proposed a constitutional amendment, the first since 2008, which, if approved in a referendum, would add a sentence saying that France “guarantees the conservation of the environment and biodiversity and combats climate change”.
The law has spoken out against the change. It has yet to be reviewed by the right-wing Senate. Another bill contains potential reforms for a greener future, including banning fossil fuel advertising and eliminating some short-haul domestic flights.
Mr. Doucet is unimpressed. “Macron is not an ecologist. He’s a modern conservative. He knows there is a problem, so he is ready to make some changes but does not measure the size of the problem. Can you tell me one strong step he took “
At the moment, the meatless school lunches are still served in Lyon. Children seem to be fine. Last week, a Lyon administrative court denied attempts by some parents, agricultural unions and local conservative politicians to overturn the mayor’s decision, ruling that the “temporary simplification” of school menus did not pose a health risk to children.
Mr Doucet says that when the health crisis wears off, but not before then, he will be able to return to a variety of school menus, including meat. In the meantime, the Minister of Agriculture of Denormandy has asked the prefect in the Lyon region to examine the legality of the fall of meat.
“Mr. Denormandie’s accusation that we are antisocial is a lie,” Mr. Doucet told me. “He said we deny meat to the poorest with the most precarious livelihoods, which is wrong. He should have been fired immediately.”
Boris Charetiers, a member of a parents’ association, said the mayor is being watched closely. “We are vigilant,” he said. “We don’t want this to be a final decision. Our children cannot be hostages to ecological political convictions. “
Mr. Teixeira, the butcher, looked approvingly at the wide variety of meats. “We have canines for a reason,” he said.
Gaëlle Fournier contributed to reporting from Paris.