France and just how strict should secularism be.

France is going through one of its periodic bouts of "secularitis" - that disease of the national soul whose symptom is loud and prolonged agonising over the encroachments of religion.

This time the issue is school meals - and specifically the question of whether town authorities should be obliged to offer Muslim children an alternative to pork, whenever pork appears on the menu.

In some countries, that might seem a no-brainer.

"Why not?" would be a more likely interrogation.

In France, it is not as simple as that. Here, there is a very strong and broadly accepted answer to the question, "Why not?".

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Comment by Strega on October 21, 2015 at 8:47pm
There has to be a vegetarian option, in which case it really wouldn't be necessary to provide a pork alternative. There's always a vegetarian option.
Comment by Belle Rose on October 21, 2015 at 9:03pm

Aren't some people allergic to pork? Someone once told me they couldn't eat it. My best friend can't eat anything but chicken and turkey.

Comment by Simon Paynton on October 22, 2015 at 2:10am

I think the schools should respect the fact that Muslim children don't want to eat pork.  There's nothing wrong with that. 

Comment by Davis Goodman on October 22, 2015 at 2:02pm

Having a vegetarian option is not the same. Anyone can be a vegetarian for a multitude of reasons. If enough people ask...there may be vegan dishes as well in the future.

By the way...just so you know...cafeteria food in France (including schools) is exceptionally yummy. It's not the slosh you find on most campuses or in the canteens in office buildings.

I find both arguments reasonable (to an extent). In the first case...simply make an extra dish everyone can enjoy that isn't pork. It's not difficult. Not doing so might keep muslim students away from the cafeteria which would maintain a division by religion anyways....which is not the goal.

On the other side, doing so bows down to the irrational delusions of one particular religion (actually two) in a fiercely secular state. Would we give them 5 minute periods three times a day to roll out a carpet and bob their heads up and down as well? No...the school hasn't made any concessions for that. What about having a special eating room where the sexes are segregated to appease the modesty laws of islam? The school doesn't make a consession for that. Should they make sure all meat is kosher or hallal? As far as I know...they don't make concessions for that. Why should they make an exception for the stupidity of religious dietary laws of one religion?

Comment by Strega on October 22, 2015 at 2:14pm
Well it's not just one religion, is it? It's pretty much all religions except Christian. Hindus don't eat meat, Jews don't eat pork, Muslims don't either. Schools in other countries don't seem to run into this issue. Somewhere here there's an undercurrent of testing boundaries to cry persecution.
Comment by Davis Goodman on October 22, 2015 at 4:26pm

Hindus don't eat beef but they certainly eat other meat. Jewish people and Muslims don't eat pork (they claim not to...even though many do). The whole case here isn't about having several options...it is Jewish and Muslim students complaining when pork (and only pork) is on the menu and that some other meat (or dish) should be provided whenever pork is served. That is asking for special treatment because of what their holy book tells them. That is testing secularist principles. It's not asking for more options...it's asking for there to be special treatment only when the meals offered clashes with their faith...indifferent to any other case. Preparing an extra meal...to satisfy people of the two religions whose holy books tell them not to eat Pork...is without a doubt a challenge to secular principles.

That doesn't mean the school shouldn't be flexible...but it also has to be recognized that the students are asking for special treatment because of their faith.

Comment by Laroche Sandrine on October 23, 2015 at 8:21am

Hi! I'm French and I want to give an inside point of view. I apologize for any grammatical mistake I will probably make.

First of all, the government just give directions on what happen in school cafeteria: it need to be healthy, to have variety (to educate kids to taste), adaptable menu to each age... The city is responsible for it for those in primary school (6 to 11). They can have local employees or have a catering company do it. So technically, it's the mayor who decide. For secondary school (12/15), it's the county (département) and for high school (16/18), it's the region (région).

Now, for those who have allergies, it's recommended that the parents make the kid's lunch if they can't go home for lunch. Teachers have (normally) a resting area with a little fridge, a microwave and a coffee machine (probably the first thing they buy XD).

I didn't eat in cafeteria when I was in school, but I did eat sometimes when I was working with kids and I didn't see any problems (don't mean they didn't exist, just I never saw one)

This is what you saw when you go on the French government website, primary school, cafeteria

The presentation of dishes frequency must be respected in order to preserve a balanced diet based on the following principles:

  •      offer four or five dishes every lunch or dinner, which necessarily a main course including a trim, and a dairy product
  •      meet the minimum requirements of variety of food served
  •      make available appropriate size portions
  •      define rules adapted to the water service, bread, salt and sauces

Now, I understand that it's difficult to balance religion and secularism. We are working on it. Kids can eat at the cafeteria their own lunch. We could do a system where the teachers count when the children eat the cafeteria menu and when they eat their own lunch and at the end of the month, the parents just have to pay for what exactly their kids eat (don't know if they're doing it already - I don't have any kid).

I think this sort of debate as boring because they're ways to make everyone happy but it's like everyone just want to win the discussion and forgot why they're having one...

Comment by Strega on October 23, 2015 at 11:01am
HI Laroche and welcome to Think Atheist :). It's always good to have members from different countries here, sharing their views. Thanks for your insight.
Comment by Laroche Sandrine on October 23, 2015 at 11:31am

Hi Strega, thanks! It seemed appropriate since even if my insight is limited, how works a country doesn't mean that every country works the same. Whatever you need about French Culture etc... you can ask me :)

Comment by Reg The Fronkey Farmer on October 23, 2015 at 3:20pm

I used to work with a French Muslim.....though it was never obvious because when we stayed overnight in Paris he would delight in drinking Irish Whiskey and tell us that he and many of his Muslim friends would secretly eat pork and drink lager as a form of rebellion. An atheist hedonist partying with Muslims dans la Boulevard St. Germain a 4hrs du matin.!!

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