Paris parents take up fight against crummy school meals

Parents in the 18th arrondissement of Paris have joined forces to take a stand against the poor quality of the meals being served to their children at schools in the area.

Paris parents take up fight against crummy school meals
File photo: AFP
For most people, school meals are not a fond memory.
But French schools have a reputation for serving up varied, well balanced dishes that any self-respecting adult would be happy to eat
However, according some parents in the French capital, this may be more than a little generous when it comes to public schools in the French capital's 18th arrondissement.
recent petition launched by the parents and addressed to Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo and Mayor of the 18th Eric Lejoindre  entitled,”Is the health of children in the 18th being sacrificed for the profit of the industry?” was created by the parents in an attempt to shine a light on the “major public health problem” and has received almost 6,000 signatures. 
They say that the food being served up to their children is full of hydrogenated fat, sugar, additives, salt, preservatives and dyes. And on top of that many dishes are cooked several days in advance and reheated in plastic trays. 
And they should know.
This dynamic collective of parents conducted a three-month “investigation” which included visiting the canteens in question, as well as the central kitchen where 14,000 nursery, school and college meals are prepared everyday. 
The kitchen is owned by public service provider Sogeres, which has a 25-year contract to provide meals to the area's schools. 
“It's too small…so dishes are cooked three or four days in advance and warmed up before being served to the children. That means that meat dishes are heated in ready-made, industrial and sweet sauce,” one parent told BFM TV. 
Apparently this includes boiled eggs which are bought already boiled and served to children several days later. 
As part of their investigation, the parents collected photos along the way (see below), which have been posted to the group's Facebook page called “Les enfants du 18eme mangent ca” or “Children of the 18th eat that”. 
And according to the parents, their children have been complaining about the poor quality of their school meals for years. 
However the Town Hall has said that the supplier is required to meet very demanding specifications. 
In a letter to the parents, the local authorities said that they demand high standards when it comes to “the quality of the ingredients and maintaining respect for the environment.”
But the parents are still unsatisfied. 
“They might serve organic bread every day, it makes up the percentage [of organic food served] and certified meat only applies to certain parts. For example, yes the chicken leg will be certified but not the nuggets,” said another parent. 
In September, a new provider is set to be appointed so will it be a case of “Bon appetit” from then on?
For members


Reader question: Exactly how many different types of cheese are there in France?

One thing everyone can agree on is that France has a lot of cheese - but exactly how many French fromages exist?

Reader question: Exactly how many different types of cheese are there in France?

Question: I often see a quote from Charles de Gaulle talking about ‘246 different types of cheese’, but other articles say there are 600 or even 1,000 different types of cheese and some people say there are just eight types – how many different cheeses are there in France?

A great question on a subject dear to French hearts – cheese.

But it’s one that doesn’t have a simple answer.

Charles de Gaulle did indeed famously say “How can anyone govern a country with 246 different types of cheese”, but even in 1962 when he uttered the exasperated phrase, it was probably an under-estimate.

READ ALSO 7 tips for buying cheese in France

The issue is how you define ‘different’ types of cheese, and unsurprisingly France has a complicated system for designating cheeses.

Let’s start with the eight – there are indeed eight cheese ‘families’ and all of France’s many cheeses can be categorised as one of;

  • Fresh cheese, such as cottage cheese or the soft white fromage blanc
  • Soft ripened cheese, such as Camembert or Brie
  • Soft ripened cheese with a washed rind, such as l’Epoisses or Pont l’Eveque
  • Unpasturised hard cheese such as Reblochon or saint Nectaire
  • Pasturised hard cheese such as Emmental or Comté
  • Blue cheese such as Roquefort 
  • Goat’s cheese
  • Melted or mixed cheese such as Cancaillot

But there are lots of different types of, for example, goat’s cheese.

And here’s where it gets complicated, for two reasons.

The first is that new varieties of cheese are constantly being invented by enterprising cheesemakers (including some which come about by accident, such as le confiné which was created in 2020).

The second is about labelling, geography and protected status.

France operates a system known as Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC or its European equivalent AOP) to designate food products that can only be made in a certain area.

As cheese is an artisan product, quite a lot of different cheese are covered by this – for example a blue sheep’s milk cheese is only Roquefort if it’s been aged in the caves in the village of Roquefort.

There are 63 listed AOC cheeses in France, but many more varieties that don’t have this protected status.

These include generic cheese types such as BabyBel and other cheeses that are foreign in origin but made in France (such as Emmental).

But sometimes there are both AOC and non-AOC versions of a single cheese – a good example of this is Camembert.

AOC Camembert must be made in Normandy by farmers who have to abide by strict rules covering location, milk type and even what their cows eat.

Factory-produced Camembert, however, doesn’t stick to these rules and therefore doesn’t have the AOC label. Is it therefore the same cheese? They’re both called Camembert but the artisan producers of Normandy will tell you – at some length if you let them – that their product is a totally different thing to the mass-produced offering.

There are also examples of local cheeses that are made to essentially the same recipe but have different names depending on where they are produced – sometimes even being on opposite sides of the same Alpine valley is enough to make it two nominally different cheeses.

All of which is to say that guessing is difficult!

Most estimates range from between 600 to 1,600, with cheese experts generally saying there are about 1,000 different varieties. 

So bonne dégustation!