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France’s fraught debate over national identity has a new battleground: the school cafeteria

Reuters/Suzanne Plunkett
Pork or nothing.
By Aamna Mohdin
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

School dinners have become the strange, new battleground for secularism in France. In the most recent debacle, a school made students who don’t eat pork or meat wear red and yellow tags, respectively.

A school in the town of Auxerre is currently under investigations after parents complained to local media about the initiative, which lasted a single day. Students were forced to wear red and yellow plastic discs ahead of lunchtime—any resemblance to the Star of David that Jews were forced to wear during the Nazi occupation was described as “unfortunate” by the local mayor.

During the last year, local politicians have pushed through some controversial measures to ban pork-free dishes in public schools. In a school in the town of Chilly-Mazarin, on days when pork is served, Jewish and Muslim students usually get an alternative meat but now, the choice for children who refuse to eat pork for religious reasons is pork or skip eating meat that day and stick with the vegetable side dishes.

Children who attend French public schools aren’t even offered halal or kosher meat, but the latest moves have angered parents who say their children are now being denied a meal with a decent amount of protein.

The decision to ban pork-free meals has sparked outrage from some but has gotten full support from former president Nicolas Sarkozy, who is planning to run again for the top job in 2017.

Politicians see these bans as the government’s continued commitment for the separation of church and state—known as laïcité and dating back to the French Revolution—but others say it’s rightwing politicians discriminating against their children (link in French).

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