Outcry as 'fat' French pupils forced to cut down on fries
The French are up in arms over a school canteen policy that limits fried potatoes to one serving per week. It’s something we know only too well in 'larger' countries like the UK and US, but it’s proving a hard sell in Europe’s slimmest nation.
Renowned for their fine cuisine and slender figures, it’s hard to imagine the French suffering an obesity problem. But like the rest of us, France is growing fatter. According to a 2009 survey by the Ministry of Agriculture and Food, some 41 per cent of French adults and 19 per cent of French children are now overweight or obese.
In an effort to tackle the problem before France goes the way of its transatlantic and northerly neighbours, the government has gradually introduced the idea of moving more and eating less to the lethargic population. Foods high in fat and salt are now accompanied by a discreet health warning, and walking short distances heartily encouraged by the local authorities. The state has also launched a 'Don't snack' poster and film campaign, which springs up at the cruelest of moments, like just as you're tucking into your popcorn at the cinema.
But children will be the first to suffer directly, when as of this week, fries will be reduced to a once-weekly treat at school. Canteens are also required to offer a wider selection of vegetables, and make dairy products a daily must, while ketchup and mayonnaise will be restricted to one sachet per pupil. The only all-you-can-eat item is bread.
Like any issue that involves food, the French did not take kindly to the news. Objectors spent no time in bombarding online articles with poorly executed tirades in the comments section. “Our children are being forced to eat insipid hospital food!” squawked one reader on the website of left-leaning daily Le Monde. “More like prison food,” huffed another. Someone else went as far as blaming President Sarkozy for the “offensive” policy. But those who remained calm enough to outline their reasons against the approach agreed that if children are “force-fed” vegetables, they will surely end up in the bin, and the kids will go hungry. Which is a fair point.
It may come as a surprise, but French pupils do not dine on oysters and veal cutlets. Like the rest of us, they are doled out tasteless slabs of meat and soggy vegetables, leaving only half of secondary school pupils satisfied. For French kids between the ages of six and 18, pizza and chips top the popularity charts every time. Just like everywhere else.
All in moderation
While France remains one of the slimmest countries in the Western world, it’s far from health-food-obsessed. On the contrary, it is Europe’s biggest consumer of MacDonalds, affectionately and universally known simply as ‘MacDo’. It’s here that Nutella chocolate spread is advertised as a nutritionally sound breakfast for children (the same campaign was banned in the UK for misleading customers). It’s also near-impossible here to find low-fat schemes in high-street food outlets like sandwich shops and pasta bars. And unlike in the UK and US, supermarkets rarely advertise products by their low calorie count.
The French outlook is that as long as they remain slimmer than the rest, they don’t need to be told what’s good for them. And that goes for school dinners.
Top photo courtesy of Flickr user ‘waferboard’ under the Creative Commons license.