Here in the good old U.S. of A., school districts are banning chocolate milk and the humble potato from school cafeterias in their efforts to curb our country’s childhood obesity epidemic. In France, schoolchildren are experiencing a ban hammer of a different color. This week the French government passed a ban on school cafeterias serving ketchup as an accompaniment to any dish but French fries – what’s more, cafeterias are now only allowed to serve French fries once a week.
According to the Los Angeles Times, it all comes as part of a campaign to promote healthier and more wholesome eating among the country’s children. While the ketchup ban is the real headline grabber here in the U.S. – we love our ketchup almost as much as we love being opinionated about bans – the new law also requires less fatty foods, more seasonal fruits and vegetables, and unlimited baguettes and water for every student. Unlike bans that happen in U.S. cafeterias, this law has a much more widespread effect as French schoolchildren are not allowed to bring their own lunches to school, but must either eat what the cafeteria supplies or go home for lunch.
"France must be an example to the world in the quality of its food, starting with its children," said Bruno Le Maire, the agriculture and food minister, in regards to the new policy. But there are also undertones of cultural preservation in the decision: the Times notes that France has a tendency to look down on ketchup as an inferior intruder on French cuisine, and it’s not too far off to consider that the ketchup ban may also be an attempt to help children get in touch with their traditional roots and peel them away from homogenized fast food tastes.
It’s certainly one reason the law is being so heavily praising by leaders like Jacques Hazan, president of the Federation of School Pupils' and College Students' Parents Councils, who hailed it as a "victory" in a conversation with the Times of London.
“[School cafeterias] have a public health mission and also an educative mission. We have to ensure that children become familiar with French recipes so that they can hand them down to the following generation," said Hazan. “We absolutely have to stop children from being able to serve those sorts of sauces to themselves with every meal. Children have a tendency to use them to mask the taste of whatever they are eating."
"Food is very important here," Hazan added. "We can't have children eating any old thing." It’s hard to argue with that. American food culture is one thing – for all our emphasis on burgers and hot dogs, dousing our meals in ketchup is practically the food equivalent of singing the Star Spangled Banner. But a food culture as rich and long standing as that of French cuisine is one worth holding on to for as long as possible. As long as they’re still allowed the sweet taste of tomato with their steak frites, we feel like it’s fair enough.