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France Ditches Reliance on Meat in Climate Bill

The country that gave the world foie gras, coq au vin and le steak frites is being asked to scale back its meat-heavy diet in favour of vegetarian options, as France embarks on a historic “culture shift” that will bring sweeping changes to all aspects of society.

Meat will be off the menu at least one day a week in schools, while vegetarian options will be standard in public catering, and chefs will be trained in how to prepare healthy and toothsome plant-based meals.

The proposals have, perhaps unsurprisingly, sparked howls of outrage among French cuisine traditionalists, but have been welcomed by many young people. Barbara Pompili, minister for ecological transition, said the country’s wide-ranging plan to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions would improve health and wellbeing, while providing a big boost to the economy.

“Developing a vegetarian menu offer is about freedom as much as ecology,” she said. “Vegetarians must be able to find menus that cater to their needs in their canteens. This is especially true for young people, among whom the proportion of vegetarians is twice as high as the rest of the population.”

France is not the first to introduce plant based catering in schools. The city of Milan, Italy, was an early mover in this philosophy when, in 2015, it decided to test the benefits of this thinking and reduce its CO2 emissions by lowering meat consumption in one specific sector: the city’s school canteens. Five years after tweaking schools’ cafeteria menus, the Italian city managed to achieve a 20 percent reduction in its greenhouse gas emissions - the equivalent of taking about 13,000 cars off the road.

The French parliament is now considering the new climate and resilience bill, which includes: one compulsory vegetarian menu a week in all schools; one daily vegetarian choice in all state-run canteens, including government establishments and universities; training for canteen staff to guarantee high-quality vegetarian menus; and the stipulation that from 2024, 60 percent of the meat served in mass catering must meet minimum quality requirements, which are likely to favour meat produced in France over imports.

Pompili said the changes would boost French farming by emphasising local food, while reducing carbon.

An earlier sign of the impending shift in French tastes and cuisine, came in January this year when a vegan restaurant in south-west France won a Michelin star - the first for an establishment serving only animal-free products in the country.

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